Coronavirus: Recovered Covid-19 patient stuck in hospital in Indonesia for weeks waiting to go home

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JAKARTA - When Mr Riki Rachman Permana saw a doctor on March 8, he was running a fever of over 39 deg C and badly fatigued.

Just the previous week, the country logged its first case of the coronavirus virus, so doctors admitted the 29-year-old immigration officer, who works at Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, to Gunung Jati Cirebon hospital in Cirebon, West Java.

Now despite feeling better, he is stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare and cannot leave the hospital, potentially taking up one of the scarce beds at a time when the country is scrambling to contain the coronavirus outbreak that is proving especially deadly in Indonesia.

"It's very frustrating. I'm waiting every day. I'm waiting to be released, hoping to go home," Mr Riki told The Straits Times in a phone interview.

Going home hinges on an all-clear from the health ministry.

Five rounds of blood tests, chest and heart examinations, CT scans and X-rays - all suggest that he is fit.

But a series of nasal and throat swabs taken since at least March 14 are still with the health ministry.

Those tests are key because they would show whether Mr Riki is still contagious.

"I'm feeling very down," he said.

His plight has made waves in domestic media after he posted an open letter describing his case to President Joko Widodo on Instagram and Twitter last Friday (March 27).

Mr Riki said members of Mr Joko's office have reached him and promised to look into his case.

Even so, Indonesia has struggled to ease bottlenecks that have hampered testing and care for people afflicted with the coronavirus.

Before rapid testing was introduced last week, some Jakarta hospitals were so overwhelmed with requests for tests, the waiting list for the procedure was a month long.

Last week, the government opened a 1,800-bed hospital specialising in Covid-19 patients after repurposing the athletes village that was used for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

Now, Indonesia has a new bottleneck: Sending home those who have recovered.

Officially, only 59 have recovered from the virus. By comparison, 104 have died.

Indonesia has racked up 1,155 infections since the virus was first detected on March 2.

The country is running a mortality rate of 9 per cent compared with a mortality rate of under 2 per cent in the United States, where deaths recently ticked past 2,000.

This is in part because Indonesia is in dire need of hospital beds. There are only 1.2 of them per 1,000 people, compared with 2.1 in Thailand, according to the World Bank.

Hospital officials said that the testing facilities at the health ministry in Jakarta, 220km away from Cirebon, are overwhelmed by the country's surge in cases.

"The long turnaround time is possibly causing the long queue of thousands of samples that need to be checked," said hospital spokesman Arif Wibawa.

Officials may be wary about discharging Covid-19 patients for fear they may infect others, even if they appear well.

Even so, the number of people who have recovered has recently ticked up. On Saturday, a record 13 received the all clear, although nine people died.

"We need to understand the criteria for making a decision whether to send a Covid-19 patient home," said Mr Arif.

To be sure, Mr Riki's stay has been as comfortable as can be expected.

"I've got good AC and a television. It's not luxury but it's comfortable," he said.

Still, the hospital food inevitably left something to be desired. Among the top items on his agenda when he gets home? Ordering takeaway through online apps.

"I'm going to eat all the delicious food I can't eat during isolation," he said.

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