Indonesia Virus Cases Seen Soaring to 95,000 by Next Month

Arys Aditya and Harry Suhartono

(Bloomberg) --

The deadly coronavirus may infect as many as 95,000 people in Indonesia by next month before easing, a minister said, as authorities ordered people to wear face masks to contain the pandemic.

The dire forecast, which came as the country reported its biggest daily spike in confirmed cases, is based on a projection by the nation’s intelligence agency, University of Indonesia and Bandung Institute of Technology, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told lawmakers in Jakarta. The estimate was discussed at a cabinet meeting held by President Joko Widodo earlier on Monday, she said.

Indonesia has seen a surge in infections in recent weeks after reporting its first cases only in early March. While the death toll from the pandemic at 209 is the highest in Asia after China, confirmed cases at 2,491 in a country of almost 270 million people is fewer than those reported in smaller countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines. Authorities reported 218 new Covid-19 cases on Monday.

“The situation is very dynamic,” Indrawati said. “The government continues to monitor and take more steps as estimates show that the cases may peak in April and May.”

Jokowi, as Widodo is known, has declared a national health emergency and ordered large scale social distancing to contain the spread of the virus that has infected almost 1.3 million people worldwide. On Monday, the president ordered authorities to ensure availability of face masks for every household as he appealed to citizens to cover their faces to contain the pandemic.

The world’s fourth-most populous nation, along with India and the Philippines, could soon become the next Covid-19 hot spots given their large populations, weak health care infrastructure and social security net, according to Nomura Holdings Inc.

Mortality Rate

The highest mortality rate in Asia may signal the actual number of infections may be much higher than reported in Indonesia, reflecting a lack of Covid-19 testing capacity, Nomura said in a report last week. The country may eventually be forced to implement a complete lockdown in April and possibly for an extended period, Nomura said.

The president has rejected calls to lock down cities and regions to fight the virus, saying such harsh steps would hurt the poor the most. But the surge in cases has overwhelmed the country’s health care system, with authorities struggling to procure enough personal protection equipment, hazmat suits and ventilators for medical workers.

Some local administrations have sought permission to impose large scale social distancing measures under a new rule issued by the Health Ministry, Doni Monardo, chief of the government’s task force on coronavirus said Monday. The steps will allow police and other law enforcement agencies to take “measurable actions”, according to officials.

Indonesia Slashes Growth Forecast by More Than Half on Virus

The police will step up a crackdown on gathering of people across the archipelago to aid the government efforts to break the virus chain, national police spokesman Argo Yuwono said in a televised briefing Monday. Law enforcement agencies have also investigated more than a dozen cases of hoarding of food, masks and other essential supplies and price gouging, he said.

Jokowi said a plan to release prisoners from the nation’s crowded jails should be limited to those serving terms for general crimes and not those convicted for corruption and other serious offenses. The president also ordered speedier reallocation of budget to tackle the health and economic impact of the pandemic, his office said in a statement.

(Updates with latest coronavirus data in third paragraph.)

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