Indonesia faces huge coronavirus surge

Ed Davies and Stanley Widianto
Indonesia has 369 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 32 deaths, but the toll is tipped to surge

Indonesia likely faces a large surge in coronavirus cases after a slow government response masked the scale of the epidemic in the world's fourth most populous country, health experts say.

Less than three weeks after recording its first case, Indonesia has 369 confirmed cases and 32 deaths.

Jakarta, a city of 10 million people, has 215 confirmed infections and 18 deaths, and a state of emergency was declared in the capital city on Friday.

While coronavirus cases and deaths are rising in much of Southeast Asia, Indonesia's population of 260 million people, sprawling landmass and creaking healthcare system make it especially vulnerable.

University of Queensland director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Professor Ian Henderson, said Indonesia is likely to have many more cases than currently reported.

"Without large-scale testing, contact tracing and quarantine measures, the opportunity for spread of this virus is great," he warned.

The World Health Organisation has said mass testing is the most effective way of tackling the coronavirus.

Indonesia had tested only 1898 people as of Friday, or around seven tests per one million people, compared with more than 5000 per million in South Korea and more than 2000 per million in Italy, two of the worst-affected countries.

Cambodia, which has one sixteenth as many people and less than two per cent of its GDP, has carried out nearly as many tests as Indonesia.

President Joko Widodo's government has increased the number of laboratories authorised to conduct testing from only one in Jakarta to more than a dozen, including on Java island, and in the east of Papua.

Widodo said on Friday he would use "all state power" to tackle the outbreak and that rapid testing was being launched in areas where there were cases.

More testing is likely to expose far more cases and Indonesia should "prepare for the worst", the head of the country's Red Cross told Reuters.

Indonesia has reported only 1.4 cases per million people, compared to four per million in Thailand, 28 per million in Malaysia, 219 per million in Iran and 679 per million in Italy, a Reuters analysis of publicly released figures shows.

The ratio of the number of dead to the number of recorded cases in Indonesia at 8.7 per cent is among the highest in the world - even higher than 8.3 per cent in Italy. Medics say it is a likely indicator that cases have gone undetected.

Malaysia and the neighbouring Philippines have introduced strict curbs on movement to try to contain the virus, but Widodo has resisted such a move.