Indonesia’s frontline hospital defends policies to tackle coronavirus

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JAKARTA (Reuters) — Indonesia has the resources to cope with a coronavirus outbreak, the director of its leading infectious diseases hospital said, defending detection procedures in the Southeast Asian nation of more than 260 million, where no cases have been reported.

The world’s fourth most populous nation has tested 141 suspected cases, a small figure for its population, sparking concern among some medical professionals of a lack of vigilance and a risk of undetected cases.

Neighboring Malaysia has reportedly run about 1,000 tests, and Britain more than 10,000.

“We can’t doubt our skills and the facts we gather,” said Muhammad Syahril, director of the Sulianti Saroso hospital in Jakarta, the capital, when asked why Indonesia had detected no cases.

“If we don’t have cases, we don’t have cases,” he said in an interview at the hospital on Friday. “Why would we cover it up?”

The virus has infected more than 85,000 people globally and killed nearly 2,800, the majority in China, spreading to more than 50 countries.

Sulianti Saroso is Indonesia’s main hospital for handling suspected virus cases, among 135 designated for the task.

Indonesia’s efforts have included screening the temperatures of arrivals at airports and advising that any who later become unwell should contact health authorities.

The hospital offers 11 isolation rooms for patients with symptoms such as pneumonia, Syahril said, adding that three people were being treated, while 21 were in isolation before testing negative.

The hospital was ready to tackle any outbreak, armed with experience gained in handling disease such as the 2003-2004 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, he said.

A health ministry official previously told Reuters that some hospitals, particularly in eastern Indonesia, had smaller capacity to handle virus cases. But even in Jakarta not all best practices appear to be followed and a recent visit to another hospital revealed some nurses without masks, despite attending to a patient with fever.

Fueling concern about Indonesia’s vulnerability, four infections were confirmed in travelers who had spent time there, including a Japanese national living in Malaysia and one returning to New Zealand from Iran via the resort island of Bali.

Indonesian physician Shela Putri Sundawa worries that screening could miss potential carriers without symptoms.

“When people have travel or contact history, but they only have issues with coughing or minor fever, they’ll just be monitored,” she said, calling for tighter surveillance.

Tests were run when doctors determined that symptoms pointed “to that direction”, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto saidlast week.

“Imagine if everybody who had a cough or flu was checked, then millions would be checked,” he said, adding that it was “a blessing from the Almighty” that no cases had been found.