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Indonesia's Capital Declares State Of Emergency To Halt Coronavirus Spread

Mar 20, 2020

The world's fourth most populous country is bracing for a spike in cases of coronavirus infection, after health experts say a sluggish government response has masked the serious of the outbreak.

The governor of Indonesia's capital Jakarta has declared a two-week state of emergency in the city. In the past three weeks, confirmed cases in Indonesia have risen from a handful to 369. The country's number of COVID-19-related deaths stands at 32, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan Friday urged businesses to allow employees to work from home and said that starting Monday, bars, spas and movie theaters would be shut, and public transportation would be limited. Many religious activities in places where worshipers might congregate in large numbers, such as mosques and churches, are also suspended for the next two weeks. Indonesia's top clerical Muslim body had earlier issued a fatwa allowing Muslims in areas where COVID-19 has spread "uncontrollably" to skip Friday prayers.

Medical staff and health workers have criticized President Joko Widodo's government for underestimating the magnitude of infection in a country comprising thousands of islands that sprawl across the Equator.

An official at the State Ombudsman office, which investigate complaints about the government, said the administration had been "very late, stammering" in its handling. "Because, truthfully," he told Reuters, "they have wasted time since January."

The chairman of Indonesia's Red Cross, former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, has said a paucity of testing is masking the gravity of the outbreak: "If the tests are low, then the cases are low."

The fatality rate in Indonesia is running at more than 8%, which indicates there is under-testing, according to global management consulting firm Teneo.

President Widodo said Friday that he would use "all state power" to combat the outbreak and that rapid testing was being made available in areas of the outbreak. As he called for stepped-up testing, the presidential palace said both he and his wife were negative for COVID-19.

The country of 267 million has tested some 1,500 people, well below many of its smaller Asian neighbors.

Kalla urged that Indonesia follow the lead of neighboring Philippines and institute tough measures, including lockdowns. He also urged it to follow the strategy of South Korea, which has tested more than 316,000 people to help quell its outbreak. Indonesia is importing 200,000 test kits from South Korea and 500,000 from other countries.

But there are concerns that Indonesia's under-funded health care system lacks the medical staff, training, and equipment needed to combat the pandemic.

And despite official advice on the need for social distancing to curb transmission, members of the public continue to flout the warning and worshipers crowded some mosques for Friday prayers.

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