Indonesian Virus Deaths Top South Korea as Cases Near 2,000

Harry Suhartono and Arys Aditya
Indonesian Virus Deaths Top South Korea as Cases Near 2,000

(Bloomberg) --

Indonesia reported its biggest daily spike in confirmed coronavirus infections as the nation’s death toll from the pandemic surpassed South Korea to become the highest in Asia after China.

The number of confirmed cases rose to 1,986 with 196 new infections reported in the past 24 hours, Achmad Yurianto, a spokesman for government’s Covid-19 task force said at a briefing in Jakarta on Friday. The pandemic has killed 181 people in Indonesia, surpassing South Korea’s total of 174, data compiled by the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University showed.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared a national health emergency this week and ordered large scale social distancing to contain the spread of the virus that’s killed more than 53,000 people worldwide. 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.

Jokowi, as Widodo is commonly known, 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.

The highest mortality rate in Asia at above 9% may signal the actual number of infections may be much higher than reported, reflecting a lack of COVID-19 testing capacity, according to Nomura. The country may eventually be forced to implement a complete lockdown in April and possibly for an extended period, Nomura said in a report Friday.

“We think Indonesia has been the slowest in terms of taking decisive measures and is therefore most at risk of delays in containing the outbreak within its borders, with larger negative economic consequences,” Nomura analysts led by Sonal Varma said in the report. “An immediate concern is the upcoming holidays, which risk increasing transmission due to the surge in domestic travel.”

Fears of the pandemic spreading to the vast archipelago have mounted with the government deciding not to ban the annual ritual of millions of Indonesians traveling to their hometowns or villages when the Muslim-majority nation celebrates Eid al-Fitr at the end of the fasting month of Ramdan. Jokowi, who on Thursday urged people to avoid travel and practice social distancing to prevent the virus, has ordered several income support measures for daily wage earners, informal sector workers and street hawkers.

The government has also vowed to do whatever it takes to limit the damage to Southeast Asia’s biggest economy from the pandemic, by allocating 405 trillion rupiah ($25 billion) to support the health system and the economy. It has also temporarily scrapped a budget deficit cap of 3% of gross domestic product to allow government to boost spending.

Authorities are scrambling to stabilize the economy and financial markets amid a sell-off in emerging markets, which has led to a 16% plunge in the rupiah against the dollar so far this year. With the pandemic taking a toll, it is projected to grow just 2.3% this year, compared to an initial estimate of 5.3%, and could even contract 0.4% in a worst-case scenario.

(Updates with comment from analysts in fifth paragraph.)

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