Coronavirus: Indonesia estimates more than 500,000 had contact with virus suspects

People wear protective face masks as they ride on their motorbikes outside a market in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 20, 2020.
People wear protective face masks as they ride on their motorbikes outside a market in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 20, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Indonesia has estimated the number of people who have had possible contact with Covid-19 suspects to be at more than half a million, the authorities said on Friday (March 20), as the government started rapid testing for the virus on its population.

This “high risk” group of between 600,000 and 700,000 people are scattered across the country, with South Jakarta being the worst hit, the authorities said.

Earlier, President Joko Widodo said in a statement broadcast live on national television that Indonesia started rapid testing for the virus on Friday afternoon.

“We are doing it in areas based on our contact tracing of the (coronavirus) patients. We are going door-to-door to test people,” Mr Joko said. “The result of our mapping indicates the hardest-hit area is South Jakarta.” He did not disclose the other locations.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, with a 270 million population, is catching up with testing its citizens who might be carrying the coronavirus infections as the government faces mounting criticism for being slow in detecting infections. Indonesia announced its first two cases of coronavirus on March 2.

There have been several cases where patients with pneumonia were detected to have had the coronavirus only after they died, or just a day prior to their deaths.

Mr Achmad Yurianto, the government spokesman for the management of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, told a media briefing on Friday that the country had 60 fresh cases, bringing the total infections to 369 as of Friday.

Total deaths rose by seven to 32, the highest death tally in South-east Asia.

Seventeen patients have recovered.


Meanwhile, the head of the country’s Red Cross told Reuters that Indonesia is likely to have a far higher number of coronavirus cases than it has reported, due to low levels of testing, and needs to consider tougher measures like lockdowns.

The country went from zero reported cases to 309 in less than three weeks.

“If the tests are low, then the cases are low,” said Mr Jusuf Kalla, a former two-term vice-president of Indonesia and chairman of the country’s Red Cross, adding that the true number of cases should be revealed once Indonesia gets more test results from laboratories to step up testing.