Indonesia's Covid-19 outbreak is getting worse but West Java bucks the trend

In West Java, the spread of the virus has slowed. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - The Covid-19 outbreak is under control in Indonesia's biggest province thanks to widespread testing and lockdown measures, said West Java governor Ridwan Kamil.

Mr Ridwan said during an interview with The Straits Times that daily testing would more than double to 5,000 following delivery of new state-of-the-art testing equipment and due to expanded contact tracing efforts.

The governor's comments come as new daily Covid-19 infections increase, with the virus spreading out from its original epicentre of Jakarta and West Java.

On Friday (June 27), East Java, the country's second most populous province where Indonesia's second largest city Surabaya is located, overtook Jakarta to become host of the country's majority of Covid-19 cases.

But in West Java, home to 50 million people and many of the capital's bedroom communities, the spread of the virus has slowed.

Each newly infected person infects fewer than one other person on average - a way to measure how fast the virus spreads called Rt, Mr Ridwan said.

"Our Rt has been below one for the past six weeks," Mr Ridwan said.

"According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), if your Rt is below one for the last 14 days, you can claim your Covid situation is under control."

Beds occupied by Covid-19 patients account for 27 per cent of all available beds, while the number of active cases - net of deaths and recoveries - is about half of the province's total number of infections since early March, Mr Ridwan said.

He added that the government has taken delivery of 20 high volume machines that can conduct polymerase chain reaction tests, scanning thousands of swabs for molecular signs of the coronavirus.

The province has converted more than 620 ambulances into mobile rapid testing units that will fan out into neighbourhoods and into the countryside, in a proactive effort to test for community transmission rather than waiting for infected patients to come to the hospital.

Once scrambling for personal protective equipment and reagents for testing, the province has now become a production hub for the items. West Java now exports masks and gowns to Europe and Africa, Mr Ridwan said.

After Jakarta, the whole West Java eased its lockdown this month, following a slowdown in infections. Shopping malls and mosques opened but schools did not. Roughly 60 per cent of the economy in urban areas has been reopened, according to Mr Ridwan.

But elsewhere in Indonesia, it is a different story.

With many Indonesians neither wearing masks nor following distancing guidelines, President Joko Widodo said in a speech from the presidential palace on Wednesday (June 24) that his countrymen must "be disciplined".

"We must realise that the Covid-19 threat is not over," Mr Joko said.

Officials are struggling to keep pace with the outbreak.

This week, East Java's governor Khofifah Indarparawansa asked the central government for help with contact tracing, especially in Surabaya.

Health workers only track down and test on average three residents for every new coronavirus case that they diagnose. By comparison, in rural areas their contact tracing reaches an average of 20 people, Ms Khofifah said.

Dr Ni Nyoman Sri Antari, head of Jayapura city health office, told local media the 90 hospital beds set aside for Covid-19 patients in the Papuan capital are full.

New daily cases tripled across the country in the first 10 days of the month and reached a record of 1,385 on Saturday.

"No. 1 is West Java. They're the best for (handling) Covid," said Mr Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at University of Indonesia.

"Nationally, it's not under control."

Even so, Mr Ridwan took aim at what he called "unfair" foreign media coverage that lumps Indonesia with other Covid-19 hot spots like India, where new daily cases have climbed steadily since mid-May, more than doubling so far in June to nearly 17,300.

"Maybe my story of West Java can give the international public some balance in how they view the country," Mr Ridwan said.

"If you zoom in, there are also rewarding and inspiring stories to tell."

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