After denial, Indonesia sees mounting coronavirus deaths

Full Screen
1 / 10

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this April 14, 2020, photo, a man paints a coffin prepared for victims of the new coronavirus in Jakarta, Indonesia. The world's fourth most populous nation now has the highest number of recorded fatalities from the COVID-19 disease in Asia after China, and testing for the viral infection remains among the lowest in the region. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

JAKARTA – While Indonesia’s neighbors scrambled early this year to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the government of the world’s fourth most populous nation insisted that everything was fine.

In speeches, Indonesia’s health minister, Terawan Agus Putranto, told his country's people that they shouldn’t fear the virus, even as tens of thousands around the world were being infected.

Rather than focus on creating social distancing guidelines or ramping up testing, Putranto credited Indonesian “immunity” and the strength of prayer for the country's lack of any infections. He dismissed as “insulting" a report by Harvard University researchers that said Indonesia must have elected not to report its cases.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s southern neighbor Australia and some fellow Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore were quick to address the crisis, taking action as early as late January that included containment and tracing measures.

Indonesia did not even confirm its first case of the virus until early March. As of Tuesday, the nation had reported at least 7,135 infections — including 616 deaths. That's more COVID-19 fatalities than all other Asian counties except China.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo acknowledged last month that the government chose to keep the public misinformed about the state of the coronavirus in the country.

“Indeed, we did not deliver certain information to the public because we did not want to stir panic,” he said.

Suspicion over the lack of cases in Indonesia grew when a Chinese tourist who had traveled to the Indonesia resort island of Bali from Wuhan — the central Chinese city where the pandemic started late last year — tested positive for the coronavirus when he returned to China in early February.