When Mr Riki Rachman Permana saw a doctor on March 8, he was running a fever of over 39 deg C and badly fatigued.
Just the previous week, the country had logged its first case of the coronavirus, so doctors admitted the 29-year-old immigration officer, who worked at Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, to Gunung Jati Cirebon hospital in Cirebon, West Java.
Now despite feeling better, he is stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare and cannot leave the hospital, potentially taking up scarce beds at a time when the country is scrambling to contain the coronavirus outbreak that is proving especially deadly in Indonesia.
“It’s very frustrating. I’m waiting every day. I’m waiting to be released, hoping to go home,” he told The Straits Times.
Going home hinges on an all-clear from the Health Ministry. Five rounds of blood tests, chest and heart examinations, computed tomography (CT) scans and X-rays – all suggest that he is otherwise fit.
But a series of nasal and throat swabs taken since at least March 14 are still with the Health Ministry.
Those tests are key because they would show whether Mr Riki is still contagious. “I’m feeling very down,” he said.
His plight has made waves in domestic media after he posted on Instagram and Twitter an open letter to President Joko Widodo describing his case last Friday.
Mr Riki said members of Mr Joko’s office have contacted him and promised to look into his case.
Indonesia has struggled to ease bottlenecks that have hampered testing and care for people afflicted with the coronavirus.
Before rapid testing was introduced last week, some Jakarta hospitals were so overwhelmed with requests for tests that the waiting list for the procedure was a month long.
Last week, the government opened a 1,800-bed hospital designated for Covid-19 patients after repurposing the athletes’ village that was used for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
Now Indonesia has a new bottleneck: sending home those who have recovered. Officially, only 59 have recovered from the virus. By comparison, 114 have died.
Indonesia has racked up 1,285 infections since the virus was first detected there on March 2.
The country is running a mortality rate of 9 per cent compared with a mortality rate of under 2 per cent in the United States, where deaths recently ticked past 2,000.
This is in part because Indonesia is in dire need of hospital beds. There are only 1.2 of them per 1,000 people, compared with 2.1 in Thailand, according to the World Bank.
Hospital officials said the testing facilities at the Health Ministry in Jakarta, 220km away from Cirebon, are overwhelmed by the surge in cases. “The long turnaround time is possibly causing the long queue of thousands of samples that need to be checked,” said hospital spokesman Arif Wibawa.
Officials may be wary about discharging recovered Covid-19 patients for fear they may infect others, even if they appear well.
Even so, the number of people who have recovered has recently ticked up. Last Saturday, a record 13 received the all-clear, although nine people died.
“We need to understand the criteria for making a decision whether to send a Covid-19 patient home,” said Mr Arif.
To be sure, Mr Riki’s stay has been as comfortable as can be expected. “I’ve got good air-conditioning and a television. It’s not luxury but it’s comfortable,” he said.
Still, the hospital food inevitably left something to be desired. Among the top items on his agenda when he gets home? Ordering takeaway through online apps.
“I’m going to eat all the delicious food I can’t eat during isolation,” he said.