An Indonesian Red Cross personnel sprays disinfectant outside a McDonald's in Central Jakarta on Tuesday. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Jokowi Calls for Massive Covid-19 Rapid Testing in Indonesia as Market, Rupiah Are Routed


MARCH 19, 2020

Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has issued an order to carry out massive rapid Covid-19 testing across Indonesia, as the country ramps up efforts to fight the pandemic. 

"We must do this immediately, rapid testing with greater coverage so we can detect Covid-19 infections much earlier," Jokowi said during a cabinet meeting at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Thursday. 


The president also called for a clear and straightforward health protocol everyone could follow, especially regarding self-isolation after taking the Covid-19 test. 

Indonesia is finally listening to the World Health Organization's call for extensive Covid-19 testing in its territory, which has quickly become a hotbed for the pandemic in Southeast Asia.

The most populous country in the region announced 19 deaths from the disease on Wednesday, four times the number a day earlier.

This means the country now has one of the highest Covid-19 fatality rates among its neighbors.

Indonesia reported 227 new confirmed cases on Wednesday after testing just 1,592 people, or six in a million out of its total population. 

Jokowi's call came as rupiah, the country's currency, fell as much as 4.1 percent to trade at 16,132 against the US dollar at intraday trading on Thursday, a level it has not seen since the traumatic experience of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998. 

What happened at the stock market today compounded fears that Covid-19 could trigger a global recession this year.

Global investment bank Morgan Stanley said the world's economy is likely to shrink by 0.3 percent in the first quarter – when China's economy suffered the worst hits of the pandemic – and by 0.6 percent in the second when the rest of the world will likely struggle with the pandemic's fallout. 

The Indonesia Stock Exchange also imploded on Thursday, forcing the bourse to hit its 5-percent-decline circuit breaker for the four times in the past six days. 

On Thursday's meeting, Jokowi seemed to have finally come to terms with the fact that Indonesia is now playing catch up with a pandemic – there was no more comment about people recovering from the disease by themselves in the president's speech.

"Our first priority is to prevent the wider spread of Covid-19," Jokowi said. 

"The most important thing is to reduce people's mobility, prevent them from moving from one place to another. We will continue to share information about the importance of keeping our distance from each other, of social distancing," he said. 

The president also issued an order to provide maximum support for medical workers, ensuring they are supplied with adequate equipment and medical supplies, from surgical masks, rubber gloves to hazmat suits.

"We've been exporting the masks and medical equipment. We will stop. Let's make sure we've got enough of them ourselves," Jokowi said. 

"I've also asked the Finance Minister to provide incentives for doctors, nurses and hospital staff who are handling Covid-19 cases," he said.

The president also promised a massive mobilization of private hospitals and hospitals under the control of state-owned enterprises and the military to provide treatment for Covid-19 patients.

Indonesia now has only 310,000 hospital beds across the archipelago, or 1.2 beds for every 1,000 people, according to the WHO's latest data.

"If necessary, we can also use the athlete housing in Kemayoran, which can fit in around 15,000 people. Hotels operated by state-owned enterprises can also be used," Jokowi said, referring to the Athlete's Village in Central Jakarta used for the  2018 Asian Games. 

Limit Religious Gatherings

The president also calls for the Covid-19 Task Force – a joint operation of ministries, regional governments and the Indonesian Military (TNI) under Lt. Gen. Doni Monardo, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) – to persuade religious leaders to join the government's efforts in combating the pandemic. 

"We must re-evaluate religious events that involve a large crowd," Jokowi said. 

On Wednesday, Doni scrambled to stop two massive religious gatherings scheduled for Thursday in Gowa, South Sulawesi, and in Ruteng, East Nusa Tenggara.

The government just managed to halt the Islamic event in Gowa, which had gathered at least 8,000 people, including hundreds of foreigners from Malaysia, India and Pakistan.

A Catholic bishop ordination in Ruteng, on the other hand, went forward at a smaller scale. Attendees shared images of around 2,000 people packing the town's cathedral, but also photos of its empty yard, which was initially reserved for another 5,000 pilgrims from around the diocese. 

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) on Monday issued a fatwa – a non-binding edict for Muslims – calling on mosques in areas with confirmed Covid-19 cases to suspend Friday prayers and tell congregations to pray at home instead. 

So far, authorities have confirmed the presence of the disease in 14 provinces, including Jakarta, Central Java, Bali, Banten, West Java, East Java and North Sumatra. 

"The fatwa... is a guide for the Muslim community so they can continue worshipping but also help with preventing the spread of Covid-19," said Asrorum Niam Saleh, the secretary of MUI's fatwa council. 

Indonesia has several major religious celebrations coming up in the next few weeks, starting from Nyepi rituals for the Hindu New Year next week, the Easter week in April and the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan in May