Coronavirus News Asia

Indonesia at risk of a million new viral infections

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JAKARTA – Domestic worker Narni Nikmaturromar is someone Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his government will appreciate: this year she won’t be taking her three young sons on the traditional post-Ramadan pilgrimage from Jakarta to visit her farming parents in the southern Sumatran province of Lampung.

Struggling to homeschool her boys, Narni is among the 56.2% of citizens in a recent Indonesian Institute of Social Sciences (LIPI) survey who say they will stay put for mudik, the annual exodus to home towns and villages which is scheduled to take place at the end of the fasting month on May 23.

Ominously, however, 43% said they would venture home. And that, according to a study by the University of Indonesia’s health faculty, risks spreading more than one million new infections across the hinterland of Java island alone, presumably by residents who are currently asymptomatic – just at a time when it was hoped the worst of the pandemic will have passed.

Although the researchers did not indicate how they calculated the dire projection, it appears to have been partly based on government estimates that 7% of the 30 million people living in the Greater Jakarta area – the epicenter of the pandemic – would soon be on the move out of the metropolis.

Government leaders are waking up to the realization that any new wave of infections, in June and July, would come at just at the time when it is hoped the worst of the pandemic will have passed.

A US Center for Disease Control (CDC) graph of the Spanish flu pandemic shows the second of three waves of infections in late 1918 claimed by far the most lives. In Indonesia, the official death toll was 1.5 million, although new studies into that pandemic suggest the figure was as high as 4.3 million.

Java, home to about 160 million of Indonesia’s current 273 million population, has borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic with 4,413 of the 5,516 confirmed cases and 400 of the 496 deaths across its four provinces and two special municipalities as of April 16.

A child rides her bicycle in front of a coronavirus mural n Depok, Indonesia, April 16, 2020. Photo: AFP via Andalou Agency/Anton Raharjo

Most of those – 3,537 cases and 329 deaths – have been concentrated in Jakarta and the surrounding provinces of Banten and West Java, from where most of the post-Ramadhan travellers will journey to their destinations in tightly packed buses and trains.

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