The Coronavirus Might Be Spreading Undetected in Indonesia

Indonesia may not be equipped to rapidly detect the virus, which may lead to more outbreaks.
translated by Jade Poa
coronavirus indonesia
Workers at Bandung’s Husein Sastranegara Airport scan passengers for the coronavirus. Photo via TIMUR MATAHARI/AFP.

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia

The coronavirus has infected nearly every country in Southeast Asia, but seemingly left the nation with the region’s largest population untouched. The World Health Organization (WHO), has voiced concerns that the virus may actually already be spreading undetected in Indonesia.

At the time of writing, the coronavirus has infected 45,171 and killed 1,115.


Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch believes the coronavirus slipped through the cracks of Indonesia’s detection efforts.

"Indonesia has reported zero cases, and you would expect to have seen several already,” said Lipsitch, co-author of a study that analysed the number of airline passengers traveling from Wuhan to determine locations that may not be identifying all cases of the virus.

The study concluded that given the flight patterns, reports are below expectations in Indonesia, which has reported zero cases, and Cambodia, which has reported one case.

The WHO has urged the Indonesian government to step up their monitoring, detection, and precautionary measures at the health facilities designated to handle the coronavirus if a case is reported.

"Indonesia is doing what is possible to be prepared for and defend against the novel coronavirus," Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, WHO representative to Indonesia, told The Sydney Morning Herald. He admitted that the WHO was “concerned” that the nation of 270 million has not reported a single case.

Experts like Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland, worry that if the virus is left undetected, it will likely continue to spread and cause more outbreaks.

“You’d be thinking close contacts — family, close friends, maybe business meetings — could be then infected by these cases and this could set up a little hotspot of infection,” Mackay told The Guardian.

On January 31, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported that Indonesia had not yet received the test kits needed to detect the novel coronavirus. Until Indonesia received these specific test kits last week, doctors had been using one that identifies all types of coronavirus, which requires gene sequencing and can take up to five days.

On February 2, the Indonesian government evacuated 243 Indonesian nationals from Wuhan by plane. They were sprayed down with disinfectant upon arrival in the Natuna islands, where they will be quarantined for two weeks.