JAKARTA - The number of coronavirus cases in Indonesia has passed the 1,000 mark as the United States and Britain urged their citizens in the country to return home.
The world's fourth-most populous nation reported 153 new cases on Friday (March 27), the highest single-day jump, bringing the total number of infections to 1,046.
Another nine people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, bringing the total number of fatalities in Indonesia to 87, the highest in South-east Asia.
At a regular briefing on Friday, the official spokesman on the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Achmad Yurianto, said officials were actively tracing new confirmed cases with rapid testing kits to try and curb the virus' spread.
"We have distributed nearly 500,000 rapid testing kits to all provinces. We're trying to use this (method) for tracing," he said.
The government has appealed to Indonesians to adopt social distancing measures and advised citizens to work, study as well as worship at home.
But experts say the measures may not be enough to stop the virus from spreading among the nearly 270 million people in the vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.
Dozens of members of the Medical Professors Council of the University of Indonesia's Faculty of Medicine have issued a statement calling for "local lockdowns", saying the government-imposed physical distancing measures were ineffective, The Jakarta Post reported.
The statement followed the death of several doctors who were infected by patients. Many in the healthcare sector are working in a poor environment without adequate equipment.
The council pointed out that Indonesia has the fifth-highest fatality rate worldwide, at around 8.7 per cent as of Wednesday.
"More than 500 scholars in the world have stated that physical distancing is not enough to control the spread of Sars-CoV-2, so what we need are further restrictions. Strict rules are needed to make sure people stay at home. (The government) should apply fines for individuals or companies that violate the rules," the council's chair Siti Setiati said in the statement. Sars-Cov-2 refers to the coronavirus.
Indonesia's health ministry has estimated that between 600,000 and 700,000 of the population are at risk of being infected with the virus.Experts say the outbreak is expected to peak in May during the Ramadan fasting month, which begins at the end of April.
Meanwhile, British Ambassador Owen Jenkins has advised British citizens to return home.
"Many Brits love this great, beautiful country and have made Indonesia their home… but Covid-19 travel disruption means our advice is - if you can think of any circumstances where you would wish to be in UK over the next few months, we strongly advise you to leave," he said in a video posted on the embassy's Twitter account on Wednesday.
The United States Embassy in Jakarta has also appealed to US nationals to do likewise.
"Under the Global Level 4 Health Advisory, US citizens currently in Indonesia should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an extended period. US citizens seeking to depart Indonesia should make their own travel arrangements as soon as practicable, since commercial flights are still available, albeit at significantly reduced levels," it said on Thursday.
The State Department has instructed the US embassy employees' family members under 21 to depart Indonesia, citing "current Indonesian medical capacity" and "current availability of flights out of Indonesia".