The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has now called for greater transparency in how the nation is handling the coronavirus outbreak, ending his previous policy to withhold some information regarding the outbreak to prevent mass hysteria.
The President ordered that all information regarding the pandemic in the country be integrated in a single channel managed by the nation’s COVID-19 task force. The integrated data, he said, should include information regarding patients under treatment (PDP), people under surveillance (ODP) in every region, positive cases, fatalities and recovered patients, and should be updated on a daily basis.
“[It should] cover all and be made transparent so that everyone can access the data,” Jokowi said during a Cabinet meeting on Monday.
Previously, on March 14, Jokowi acknowledged that he was deliberately holding back some information on COVID-19 cases to prevent the public from panicking.
“Indeed, we did not deliver certain information to the public because we did not want to stir panic. We have worked hard to overcome this, since the coronavirus outbreak can happen regardless of the country border,” he said at the time.
The about-face came shortly after Jokowi declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national disaster on Monday, giving him a legal basis to grant the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) a greater degree of authority and flexibility to mitigate the disaster.
The declaration was made after the President was informed that confirmed coronavirus cases had been detected in all provinces across the country.
Following the President’s order, Achmad Yurianto, the government’s spokesperson for COVID-19 affairs, revealed for the first time on Tuesday the number of suspected COVID-19 patients in the country. As of Tuesday afternoon, Indonesia had had 4,839 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 459 fatalities and 426 recoveries, he said, adding that the government had tested 31,628 people for the deadly virus and was monitoring 139,137 people with ODP status and 10,482 people with PDP status.
Yurianto claimed that the COVID-19 task force had integrated all of the data related to the disease under one system. “After [the outbreak] was declared a national disaster, all of integrated data from villages, districts, cities, provinces, all the way to the central [government] are under one system,” he said on Tuesday. “So that all [data] could be seen and accessed openly and transparently.”
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry's website, www.infeksiemerging.kemkes.go.id, added a new feature revealing the number of people under surveillance (ODP) and patients under treatment (PDP) in the country.
The website previously only revealed the number of specimens collected by the ministry, confirmed cases, negative results, death toll, recoveries and cases under treatment. Previously, only local administrations would announce the number of people under surveillance and patients under treatment in their respective regions.
On the government’s official website, covid19.go.id, the task force also now shows the data of both national and provincial cases, including confirmed cases, fatalities and recoveries, along with charts highlighting the national trends of additional cases, fatalities and recoveries.
Critics have slammed the government for not being transparent in handling the outbreak from the get-go, saying that such a policy would only undermine efforts to contain the deadly disease.
Some scientists have complained about the difficulty of creating a reliable mathematical model to predict the peak of the outbreak due to the dearth of information regarding COVID-19 cases in the country.
The BNPB, which heads the country’s COVID-19 task force, admitted on April 5 that there were discrepancies between COVID-19 case data in central and regional government.
The governors of Jakarta and West Java, the two regions of the country hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, have suggested that the numbers of people infected and killed by the disease in the country are significantly higher than the central government’s official count.
They have said the Health Ministry has not been swift enough in testing potential COVID-19 patients.
On Monday, the President also called on the Health Ministry and the COVID-19 task force to conduct more polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, saying that they should aim to conduct at least 10,000 tests a day.
Experts have welcomed the policy shift, saying that transparency is key to gaining public trust during this pandemic.
The government should disclose how many people were tested on a certain day and how many people were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 from the tests, considering there was a backlog of samples that were waiting to be tested by the labs, said University of Indonesia (UI) epidemiologist Pandu Riono.
“[The data] should include not only ODP, PDP and fatalities, but also how many people are being treated in hospitals and of those people, how many have been tested,” he said.