Coronavirus pandemic

Indonesia death toll crosses 1,000 as cases flare up across country

East Java particularly hit, with the number of fatalities among confirmed Covid-19 cases soaring 50% in 10 days

The number of deaths in Indonesia from Covid-19 has crossed the 1,000 mark, to reach 1,007, according to latest figures yesterday, as cases previously contained in the capital Jakarta flared up across the country.

The province of East Java and four others outside Java - North Sumatra, Banten, Riau Islands and Riau - have seen rising fatality rates among confirmed cases, ranging from 8.5 per cent to 11.8 per cent.

But the country's overall fatality rate is 6.8 per cent.

With more aggressive testing and many Indonesians defying the nationwide ban on travelling back to their hometowns for Eid, or the end of the month-long fasting period of Ramadan, the number of confirmed cases has been going up.

Yesterday, the country reported 14,749 confirmed cases of infections, a near 46 per cent rise from 10,118 on April 10. There were also 16 more deaths overnight, bringing the total to 1,007.

The ban on mudik, as the exodus is known, took effect on April 24, a month before the Hari Raya Idul Fitri celebration, which falls on May 23 and 24 this year. People who defy the ban face a fine of up to 100 million rupiah (S$9,500) and a maximum jail term of one year.

The measure was taken to stop the coronavirus from spreading beyond Jakarta, the epicentre of the country's outbreak, and other high-risk regions to the rest of the vast archipelago with a population of 270 million.

The virus has particularly struck East Java, where the number of Covid-19 deaths among confirmed cases has shot up a staggering 50 per cent in 10 days, between April 30 and May 10.

Deaths among suspected cases - patients who showed strong symptoms but had not been tested - soared 40 per cent to 388 in the same period.

To coax more people to comply with social distancing measures, the military will be deployed to a number of regions, especially East Java province, Lieutenant-General Doni Monardo, head of Indonesia's Covid-19 task force, told reporters on Monday.

He also said the Public Works Ministry, East Java provincial government and the task force are preparing isolation wards in Surabaya, the province's capital, to ensure adequate facilities.

"The more testing we do each day, the more chances of us accumulating confirmed cases," Lt-Gen Doni noted, adding that Indonesia has 104 laboratories to test for Covid-19, of which 53 are in operation.

President Joko Widodo, however, has said more needs to be done.

"Our PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing capacity has reached 4,000 to 5,000 samples a day. This is still far from the target I gave last time, which was 10,000 samples a day," he told his ministers on Monday when opening a meeting to improve efforts to curb the outbreak.

But as tests see a rise in the number of confirmed cases, the pool of recovered patients is expanding too. It reached 2,881 on Monday, almost double that on April 30.

To boost it further, Professor Frans Santosa, who sits on the board of ethics of Indonesia's medical doctors' association, has called for the extensive use of convalescent plasma transfusion (CPT) in severe cases, such as for those facing respiratory failure.

CPT, which involves injecting patients with antibodies taken from recovered patients, was used during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and 2003 Sars outbreak, among others, to help reduce the death rate, Prof Frans added.

It is now undergoing clinical trials in many hospitals across Indonesia, Dr Achmad Yurianto, spokesman for the Covid-19 task force, told The Straits Times recently.

"But it is not easy to find donors from among the recovered patients," he added. Indonesia has hitherto obtained immune serum from one such survivor.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2020, with the headline Indonesia death toll crosses 1,000 as cases flare up across country. Subscribe