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Jakarta Post

Indonesia records spike in COVID-19 deaths after days of central govt data confusion

  • Budi Sutrisno

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, March 19, 2020   /   10:10 am
Indonesia records spike in COVID-19 deaths after days of central govt data confusion Family members carry a deceased COVID-19 patient in Tambun, Bekasi, West Java, on March 3. The man died in Cianjur and was first declared negative for COVID-19. Later, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said the central government had revised the statement and the man was, in fact, positive for the novel coronavirus. (Antara/HO)

After days of confusion about the death toll in Indonesia, the country’s spokesperson for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reported a jump from five to 19 deaths, citing “a problem in data input” that caused a delay in reporting the deaths.

The jump to 19 occurred after three regional leaders reported their respective regions’ death tolls to the press on Sunday. Health Ministry disease control and prevention director general Achmad Yurianto ignored the reports for days.

On Wednesday, he finally specified where each of the deaths took place: 12 in Jakarta, two in Central Java and one fatality each in Bali, Banten, West Java, East Java and North Sumatra. By announcing the location of the deaths for the first time since March 11, Yurianto made the central government’s data clearer to the public.

“When we rechecked the data this morning, we found out that several hospitals had not reported death cases from March 12 to March 17. This is updated data,” Yurianto said.

Yurianto also announced 55 new confirmed cases, bringing the total number to 227.

“At the moment, the overall [rate] is accelerating.  This is a common picture in any country going through the initial phase of COVID-19,” he said, promising that conditions would be well-controlled by April.

In addition to reports from regional leaders, rumors about deaths thought to be related to COVID-19 in Jakarta and South Tangerang have been circulating widely through social media, especially on the Whatsapp messaging app, increasing public concern about how deadly the virus really is.

Speculation came from residents at a housing complex in West Jakarta who mourned the death of a friend they believed had died of COVID-19. The person was a married woman in her 60s and reportedly died at home after being rejected by a packed hospital.

“The mother of two died on Monday morning and was cremated in the afternoon,” a close friend of hers told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. She was believed to have developed symptoms resembling those of COVID-19 three weeks before her death.

In South Tangerang, Banten, stories about locals dying from the novel coronavirus have also circulated. Yurianto said Banten had recorded one death, believed to be the case announced by Banten Governor Wahidin Halim on Monday. Wahidin Halim said the patient lived in the Pondok Aren district of South Tangerang. Later, the Banten administration said the death in Pondok Aren was among the first four deaths announced by the central government, or Case 35.

However, another report about a death in South Tangerang spread on Tuesday through a letter from a Christian church in Bumi Serpong Damai in Serpong.

“A choir service member, diagnosed positive for COVID-19 on Monday, died today after intensive treatment at a hospital,” the religious community in Serpong announced on Tuesday. The announcement said the person was a married man with children.

Close contacts turned to social media to convey their condolences, with someone saying that the late patient was a devoted believer and an inspiring role model who directed choirs at churches and schools.

The Post sought confirmation from the church but has yet to receive a response. The South Tangerang Health Agency told the Post that it would look into the case and pass the details on to the central government.

The irregularities in the coordination between the central and regional governments started with the first fatality report, a British 53-year-old woman who was treated at Sanglah Hospital in Bali, on March 10.

The Bali administration had been waiting for her lab results when it discovered that the patient had been declared dead by the central government. The government said the doctor in charge, not the local government, was obliged to disclose the death.

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil announced a fatality of a person in Cianjur who had previously been declared negative for the disease by the central government. Later, the West Java administration learned that the patient was, in fact, positive.

Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo also announced that one patient, a 43-year-old male, had died on Tuesday while being treated at a hospital in the provincial capital of Semarang after testing positive on Monday, the second death after a patient treated at Dr. Moewardi Regional General Hospital in Surakarta died on Friday.

In the approximately two weeks since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the first two confirmed cases, Indonesia has recorded the second highest mortality rate in the world: 8.37 percent, or 19 of its 227 confirmed cases. As of Wednesday evening Jakarta time, the Philippines recorded the highest mortality rates with 8.4 percent or 17 deaths out of the country’s 202 confirmed cases, according to Worldometer.

The average global mortality rate is about 3.9 percent. China has recorded the same rate domestically: 3.9 percent. Italy, according to the Worldometer website, has recorded a 7.9 percent fatality rate while Iran has recorded a 6.1 percent fatality rate. South Korea has recorded a 0.99 percent fatality rate, and Singapore has had no deaths.

Many believe the mortality rate will prove to be lower if Indonesia works more aggressively in testing for positive cases, even among people who do not show symptoms.

Yurianto claimed on Tuesday that the government had tested more than 2,300 samples from patients suspected of having COVID-19. Data from the ministry’s website, however, showed only 1,592 samples as of Wednesday evening. (glh/mfp)