Students attend a class at Padangpanjang State Middle High School in Padangpanjang, West Sumatra, on Wednesday. (Antara Photo/Iggoy el Fitra)

School Reopening to Strain Indonesia's Hospitals Further: WHO


AUGUST 13, 2020

Jakarta. The World Health Organization has warned that Indonesia may risk increasing local Covid-19 transmission and adding pressure to its already strained healthcare system as the country lets schools in regions with few Covid-19 cases to reopen. 

"The decision to allow students in yellow zones to return to school risks worsening local transmission, putting a heavier burden on the nation's limited healthcare facilities and workers and, in the long term, slowing down the economic recovery," WHO wrote in its latest situation report on Wednesday. 

Four ministers issued a joint decree last Friday to allow schools in yellow zones to reopen. The order revised their decision a month earlier that only allowed schools in green zones — or regions with no confirmed Covid-19 cases for at least two weeks — to resume their activities. 

The decision would mean 29 million students or 43 percent of Indonesia students could return to their schools and interact near their peers and teachers. Even with health precautions in place, the transmission could happen. Over the past week, reports have emerged, pointing to transmission in the schools. 


West Kalimantan health department announced on Monday that five students and a teacher-tested positive for the coronavirus. The Federation of Indonesian Teachers' Associations (FSGI) that other school clusters also emerged in Tulungagung and Lumajang in East Java, Tegal, and Pati in Central Java as well as in Cilegon, Banten.

"Schools are becoming new clusters showing that FSGI's earlier concern is validated," Satriwan Salim, the federation's deputy secretary-general, said on Wednesday. 

"In this emergency situation, reopening the schools and running distance learning carry their own risk. But, distance learning is relatively safer for children and teachers. That means the government should extend the distance learning rather than opening schools," Satriwan said. 

Wiku Adisasmito, the spokesman for government's Covid-19 Handling Task Force, said the local government must not rushing reopening the schools in their region.  

"If their parents do not agree, the students can stay home," said Wiku. "Also, if there is an indication of unsafe condition or increase in risk, schools must be closed immediately," he said.

WHO data showed Covid-19 transmission among children has risen at a rapid pace in the past few months. 

"Globally, from 24 February through 12 July 2020, the proportion of confirmed cases aged zero to four years has increased seven-fold while there has also been a six-fold increase of cases aged five to 24 years," WHO said. 

WHO data showed cases aged five to 14 years accounted for 2.5 percent globally. In Indonesia, children aged five to 14 years accounted for 3.8 percent of total positive cases in the country, data from the Health Ministry showed. 

Strained Healthcare Facilities

Indonesia reported 1,942 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 130,718. Still, after being flat for two weeks, the number of active cases has picked up in the past three days, adding strain to the health facilities. 

The city government of Bogor, West Java closed four community health centers (Puskesmas) in the city for three days since Tuesday after 27 medical personnel, and Puskesmas employees tested positive for the coronavirus, Bogor deputy mayor Dede Rachim, said. 

A day earlier, Cibabat Regional General Hospital in Cimahi, West Java, decided to close its operation indefinitely after dozens of its employees contracted the disease. 

Data from the Health Ministry on Tuesday showed 42 percent of the hospital's bed reserved for the Covid-19 patients were occupied. In Papua, patients filled up 92 percent of the available beds. South Kalimantan follows with an occupancy rate of 57 percent, North Sumatra, 57 percent, Central Java with 56 percent, and East Kalimantan with 54 percent. 

Jakarta and East Java, the country's pandemic epicenters, reported 51 percent and 48 percent of their isolated hospital beds, respectively, were occupied by the Covid-19 patients.