‘We are experienced’: Indonesia defends ability to detect coronavirus as country remains infection-free

Indonesian students being repatriated from Wuhan by the Indonesian government on Feb. 2, 2020. Photo: Indonesia Foreign Ministry
Indonesian students being repatriated from Wuhan by the Indonesian government on Feb. 2, 2020. Photo: Indonesia Foreign Ministry

There has yet to be a single confirmed case of a 2019-nCoV coronavirus infection on Indonesian soil, raising suspicions about the country’s capability to detect infections as its neighbors grapple with the outbreak. 

A non-peer reviewed study by Harvard University researchers last week suggested that Indonesia should be confirming cases by now, considering the high volume of air travel that had come from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also called on Indonesia to do more to prepare for an outbreak of the coronavirus amid suggestions that the country is ill-equipped to detect the deadly virus.

Related — Enforcing travel restrictions, Indonesian immigration rejects dozens of foreigners from entering Bali amid coronavirus outbreak 

Indonesia’s Health Ministry dismissed those suggestions yesterday, saying that the country possesses adequate technology to identify coronavirus infections via gene sequencing from other coronavirus strains, such as the bird flu and MERS, the outbreaks of which preceded 2019-nCoV.

“Lately there have been news stories that we are being doubted. We are actually capable because we have experience with bird flu and MERS,” Siswanto, who heads the Health Ministry’s Research Division, told reporters at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta yesterday, as quoted by Kumparan.


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Siswanto added that Indonesia’s coronavirus detection method, which requires around one day to produce comprehensive results, adheres to WHO’s standards.

While Siswanto’s claims do not directly address the concern that Indonesia lacks specific detection kits of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus, which can produce results in a few hours, it was previously reported that Indonesia’s labs require around five days to test a possible infection.

As of this morning, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 40,000 and killed over 1,000 in China, according to the country’s health commission, while over 4,000 have reportedly been cured and discharged from hospital. 

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia’s neighbor Singapore recorded its 45th confirmed infection — the most in the region — while Malaysia has 18.

Last Wednesday, Indonesia began suspending flights going to and coming from China, as well as temporarily removing visa-free and visa-on-arrival provisions for Chinese nationals. The restrictions on visa provisions are also applicable to travelers of other nationalities who have traveled to China in the last two weeks.


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