A nurse prepares medical devices in an isolation room at Bung Karno General Hospital in Solo, Central Java, last week. (Antara photo/Mohammad Ayudha)

Experts Project Tsunami-Level Death Toll as Indonesia's Covid-19 Cases Rise


MARCH 29, 2020

Jakarta. Half-hearted measures from the government in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic is likely to result in a death toll that is comparable to Indonesia's worst tsunami disaster in modern times, a report from the University of Indonesia showed over the weekend. 

The country has confirmed 1,285 Covid-19 cases on Sunday and a death toll of 114, almost double the number of patients that had recovered of 64 people. At that rate, Indonesia's death toll was among the highest in the world. 


That could worsen in the next couple of months. With the mild social interventions, like limiting mass gathering and voluntary physical distancing, Indonesia could see around 1.7 million people infected by the SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that caused the Covid-19 disease, by May, according to the report. 

Also, under the mild intervention scenario, more than 144,000 people would die, the report projected. In comparison, the Aceh tsunami in 2004 claimed more than 167,000 lives in Indonesia.  

"What we feared most is that our health system cannot cope with the pandemic," Iwan Ariawan, a biostatistics lecturer at the University of Indonesia's public health school, told Beritasatu TV.

"In this regard, the number of our hospitals, hospital beds, ICU [intensive care units], ventilators, and isolation rooms, would not be adequate if we do not implement the proper intervention," Iwan said.

As of last Tuesday, Indonesia only has 8,158 ventilators, 4,155 oxygen tubes, 2,032 isolated emergency rooms, 1,477 isolated inpatient rooms, 1,062 isolated ICUs, and 157 isolated rooms equipped with ventilators. 

Iwan and his colleagues Pandu Riono, Muhammad N Farid, and Hafizah Jusril prepared the report, titled "Covid-19 Modelling Scenarios, Indonesia", for the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas). 

Iwan and his team recommended that the government impose a month of obligatory social distancing. That includes government closing down offices and schools, forcing companies to let their employees work from home, as well as shutting down travel between cities, provinces of the island, and limiting public transportation service.

The team suggested the government to urge Muslims to skip tarawih and Ied mass prayers and restrain from traveling back to hometown during Idul Fitri. Also, Christians should celebrate Easter strictly at home.  

Ahmad Yani, the director-general of land transportation at Transportation Ministry, said on Sunday that the Greater Jakarta Area was likely to close down its border for people travel. 

"I have informed all the public transport operators to prepare for closing down of Greater Jakarta Area. Private vehicles would also be banned, but logistic vehicles can still travel freely," Ahmad said. 

With the most stringent intervention, including mass testing and forced regional lockdown, Indonesia can keep the numbers of Covid-19 patients needing hospitalization at just above half of the beds in 132 hospitals the government has set aside for treating the patients. The death toll would also be limited to around 12,000, the team said. 

The team uses several assumptions, including that the novel coronavirus infected two people every four days, and a fatality rate of 2 percent with early mass testing or 4 percent without the mass testing.

The team also based its model on available data that suggest 50 percent of Indonesians did not wash hand properly and assumed the onset of Covid-19 disease was in early February, a month earlier than the first cases confirmed by the government. 

The model did not account for the impact of medicine and hospitalization to reduce the death toll, and for the fact that 66 percent of Indonesians were smoker, a known risk factor for Covid-19.