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Jakarta Post

We should thank Indonesia's COVID-19 'Case 1' instead of breaching her privacy

  • Evi Mariani
    Evi Mariani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, March 5, 2020   /   10:02 am
We should thank Indonesia's COVID-19 'Case 1' instead of breaching her privacy MRT Jakarta passengers clean their hands using hand sanitizer at Bundaran HI station on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

On Monday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced Indonesia’s first confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), effectively prompting the people, public and private sector to double their efforts to fight the virus.

However, while the President was making a press statement, a leaked report circulated among many people in WhatsApp groups showing the complete identities, including full address, of the two patients, a woman (Case 1) and her mother (Case 2).

Read also: COVID-19 patients become victims of Indonesia’s lack of privacy protection

Later, Jokowi reminded people of the importance of patient privacy, but the leak had spread like wildfire from one WhatsApp group to another. Some people then accessed the patients’ social media accounts and shared their pictures along with misinformation about their private lives.

To make matters worse, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said at a press conference that Case 1, 31 years old, likely contracted the virus from a Japanese citizen, without mentioning that the foreigner was a woman, while the two were dancing in a club. Terawan said the Japanese national, who is undergoing medical treatment for COVID-19 in Malaysia, was Case 1’s “close friend”. 

Terawan said the Japanese citizen had visited the patients’ shared house in Depok. Soon, journalists and the public swarmed the house while the patients recuperated in North Jakarta. The Depok Police cordoned off the house with a police line as if it were a crime scene.

Later, in a statement obtained by The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, Case 1 clarified the facts. She said she did not know the Japanese citizen; she and the Japanese national just happened to be in the same room of two restaurants where a dance event took place on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15.

Case 1 learned that the Japanese citizen may have had contact with her from a friend in Malaysia who had learned about the Japanese woman’s contact history in Indonesia. 

"For the sake of national security and health, I informed the doctor that I needed to be tested, and that's why I've been isolated since Sunday. I don't even know her […I am not] acquainted with the Japanese citizen," Case 1 said.

“And I want to emphasize, the Japanese citizen is a woman, not a man that ‘rented’ me like the gossip says,” she added. “I was just in a room with the Japanese woman without knowing who she was.”

Read also: Protect privacy

The Health Ministry said earlier that there were dozens of people at the dance event.

Case 1 told the Post that she had learned that people had visited one of her social media accounts, copied and shared her pictures to various WhatsApp groups and spread false information that the Japanese citizen was a man who had hired her, insinuating that she was something other than a professional and respectable dance coach.

“Please respect me and my family’s privacy. Stop spreading our photos and fake news about us,” she said.

No one, including the government, has thanked her for being honest and actively asking for an examination. No one gives her credit that after her report, Indonesia announced its first confirmed cases and effectively brought people, institutions and the government to an alert mode.

Had her friend in Malaysia not called her and had she not acted fast, Indonesia would have remained in its delusional bubble, believing it was immune to the virus that had spread to all corners of the world.

As of Saturday, two days before Jokowi announced the first confirmed case, the Post had reported four confirmed patients in four different countries with travel history to Indonesia. One of the patients was the Japanese woman in Malaysia, or Case 24 in the neighboring country.

During the press conference Jokowi claimed the government was actively tracing people who had come in contact with the Japanese woman, but apparently later Terawan “corrected” the statement, saying it was the patient herself who shared the information, which actually could have been accessed easily by the government.

Until Case 1 asked for a test, the government had not sought information on the foreign travelers who had visited Indonesia and later tested positive for the virus.

On Friday, New Zealand reported its first confirmed patient, who transited in Bali from Dubai on an Emirates flight. It was four days later, after the announcement of the first confirmed cases, that the Bali administration finally tracked down those sitting next to the patient on the flight. They found nine people and quarantined them, four days after they should have.

Read also: Surabaya Mayor Risma admits to hoarding masks 'since January' in anticipation of COVID-19 outbreak

Yes, there have been some people rushing out to stock up on groceries; Yes, masks and hand sanitizer have gotten even harder to find. However, once the confirmed case was announced, the public displayed common sense and made rational decisions. Commuter Line and MRT Jakarta campaigned for healthy conduct on crowded public transit. The Archbishop of Jakarta released a statement about precautions during masses. Schools limited physical contact by allowing students not to shake or kiss their teachers’ hands.

Hopefully, with the confirmed cases, hospitals will be more alert when patients arrive with fever, coughs and breathing difficulties and will swab them for lab tests.

Now, Indonesia is more vigilant and is prepared for the outbreak, not thanks to the government, which ignored advice from scientists and foreign envoys to conduct more tests, but thanks to Case 1, her friend in Malaysia and the Malaysian government, which traced the patient’s contact history thoroughly.