Impenetrable doa: Health minister says prayer, not face masks, is why Indonesia remains coronavirus-free

Indonesia’s Health Minister Terawan Agus Purwanto speaking to reporters on Jan 26. Photo: Kemenkes RI
Indonesia’s Health Minister Terawan Agus Purwanto speaking to reporters on Jan 26. Photo: Kemenkes RI

As of this morning, there is zero confirmed coronavirus infection on Indonesian soil, which has raised questions over whether the country is ill-equipped to detect the disease or if Indonesians are somehow immune to the deadly virus.

One might expect the country’s top health official to provide a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. Instead, he issued a statement on the matter more befitting of a religious authority.

“Medically, [it’s thanks] to doa (prayer). It’s all because of doa,” Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said during a press conference in Jakarta on Saturday, as quoted by Detik.

“I am certain that doa is what makes [Indonesians] like this (seemingly immune to COVID-19).”


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Terawan’s statement comes after 78 Indonesian crew members quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan tested negative for COVID-19. Of the approximately 3,700 passengers and crew members aboard the ship, 355 were diagnosed with the deadly disease.

Related — Indonesian Embassy in Tokyo sends care package containing Tolak Angin and instant noodles for Indonesians quarantined on Diamond Princess cruise ship

While there hasn’t been a single confirmed COVID-19 case on Indonesian soil, one Indonesian domestic worker in Singapore tested positive for coronavirus infection a couple of weeks ago. She remains the only Indonesian worldwide to be officially diagnosed with COVID-19.

On Saturday, 238 Indonesians who were recently repatriated from Wuhan — the epicenter of the outbreak — concluded their 14-day quarantine period on Natuna Island after they were all declared coronavirus-free.

Terawan on face masks

At the press conference, Terawan also addressed skyrocketing face mask prices in Indonesia despite zero confirmed infections in the country. According to the minister, the surge in demand for face masks is the result of overreaction to the global coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s your own fault for buying face masks [and driving up the prices]. It’s not necessary. Masks are for those who are already sick,” he said, quoting World Health Organization’s Indonesia representative Dr Navaratnasamy Paranietharan.

Prices of face masks in Indonesia have reportedly increased nearly tenfold amid the coronavirus scare.

Experts have said that most face masks are unlikely to stop transmission of the virus. The WHO prioritizes other preventive measures against the coronavirus over masks, such as frequent hand-washing and using and discarding tissues when sneezing or coughing.

While Terawan’s argument on face masks is valid, the arguably insensitive way he delivered his message may rub Indonesians the wrong way, especially considering his controversial background.

Terawan, a military doctor, shot to infamy when he was banned from practice by the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) between 2018 and 2019 for serious ethical misconduct by promoting an untested “cure” for stroke. By the end of 2019, President Joko Widodo appointed him to the health minister post, and he has delivered some controversial statements on public health since.

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