Indonesia says it has nothing to hide after declaring no coronavirus cases

Indonesia is not hiding anything over the coronavirus, the health minister said on Tuesday, after some medical researchers expressed concern that cases may have gone undetected in the world’s fourth most populous country.

While the virus has quickly spread from China throughout much of the rest of the region and beyond, the sprawling Southeast Asian country of more than 260 million people has not recorded any cases so far.

Dozens of cases have been recorded in other regional countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, where one person has died, raising suspicions on social media in particular over a potential lack of vigilance in Indonesia.

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Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in the United States, then said in a study last week that Indonesia should rapidly strengthen outbreak surveillance and control — especially given that it had direct flights from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus.

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The Harvard team said that Indonesia‘s lack of confirmed cases “may suggest the potential for undetected cases” as air travel may contribute to cases being exported from China.

The virus has killed over 1,000, with more than 42,000 confirmed cases in China and 319 cases in 24 other countries. Many of the cases outside China have been in people who have a history of travelling to the country.

Vivi Setiawaty, another health ministry official, said it was unclear why Indonesia had not seen any cases but said authorities were better prepared since facing H5N1 avian influenza from 2005. “We remain cautious,” she told reporters.

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Indonesia has readied 100 hospitals across the archipelago including three in Jakarta and has also quarantined more than 240 of its citizens evacuated from Hubei province, home to Wuhan, to the island of Natuna, north of Borneo.

The WHO’s Paranietharan said it appeared unlikely, as some have suggested, that the hot tropical climate could be a factor in curbing cases though more data would be required to be sure.

“It doesn’t make sense at this point whether that could be the reason why we don’t have coronavirus cases in Indonesia,” Paranietharan said.

© 2020 Reuters

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