Coronavirus testing capacity to get boost, socio-economic stability vital too: Jokowi

Indonesia President Joko Widodo said yesterday that the economy and social stability are key in tackling the coronavirus outbreak. The informal meeting with the foreign media took place in his office as the country ramps up its testing capacity by at least four times even as the number of infections continues to rise.

This week will see Indonesia rolling out its major social programme to help support millions of its most affected citizens .

"The social programme would help bring people to a calm," Mr Joko said, referring to concerns expressed in Indonesia and overseas about the public health crisis leading to social instability.

Police said this past weekend that five people were arrested for allegedly instigating others to commit arson and looting, as the poor grapple with declining income due to the pandemic. The culprits, arrested on Friday, are part of a group that was orchestrating planned chaos for later this week in several cities across Java, the site of about 80 per cent of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Indonesia.

Dismissing criticism that his government had taken the situation lightly, Mr Joko stressed that the government has been tackling the Covid-19 crisis seriously from the beginning and said that equal attention should be given to address both the health issue and the socio-economic aspect of the problem.

"Coronavirus and economy are highly related. They both are important. If people don't eat, the economy would collapse," Mr Joko said.

The government has taken an extraordinary measure to book a budget deficit of 5 per cent of gross domestic product this year, higher than the normal threshold of 3 per cent, as it tries to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Mr Joko said if the crisis continues beyond six months, the government may have to accept an even higher budget deficit.

The President also said he has told his ministers to not project a sense of emergency to the public so as to avoid creating panic.

"If panic among the public ensues and all the people rush to hospital, even a country with the best health system would face a breakdown. We chose to remain calm but tackle the crisis seriously," he said.

Twenty million financially vulnerable Indonesians will get food. Workers affected by layoffs and daily wage earners will get cash transfers, said Mr Joko, who is popularly called Jokowi.

The President also pointed out that Indonesia's testing capacity is currently at 2,200 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests a day and could gradually see a fourfold increase.

Indonesia, which has administered 27,000 PCR tests, had ordered and recently received 18 units of Roche equipment to read PCR samples.

"We have new equipment that can do rapid PCR tests. We will be able to do more than 9,000 PCR tests a day, provided that the reagents do not arrive late," Mr Joko said in reply to The Straits Times' question during yesterday's informal discussions with four foreign media groups.

The Straits Times understands that Indonesia, like many other countries, is competing to get reagents - chemicals that need to be mixed with the PCR samples during testing - that have become scarce all over the globe.

International competition for the procurement of medical equipment and hazmat suits has been so intense that Indonesia saw its orders cancelled as they were hijacked by other countries on several occasions, Mr Joko said.

The world's fourth-most populous country of nearly 270 million people registered another 26 deaths within the past 24 hours yesterday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 399. About 80 per cent of the deceased had pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, Mr Joko said. As many as 4,557 people have tested positive.

In summarising the global effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Joko said: "Production, supply and demand have broken down."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus testing capacity to get boost, socio-economic stability vital too: Jokowi. Subscribe