JAKARTA – Only 36 in every million people are being tested for the coronavirus in Indonesia, making it the fourth worst in testing rate among countries with a 50-million population or above, pandemic data site Worldometer has revealed.
The world’s fourth most populous country of 270 million only performed better than Ethiopia, Nigeria and Bangladesh, according to the site, which has introduced a new feature showing testing rates relative to the respective country’s population.
The worst three countries for testing rate are Ethiopia, with 16 tests for every million people, Bangladesh (18), and Nigeria (19). In comparison, South Korea tests 8,996 for every million people, Singapore 6,666, and Malaysia 1,605.
Asked by The Straits Times on Monday (April 6) about Indonesia’s very low rate, Mr Achmad Yurianto, a government spokesman on Covid-19 management, said: “We don’t test based on the size of population, but based on contact tracing of positive cases as well as based on the visits to health facilities by people with Covid-19 symptoms.”
He also pointed out that Indonesia is also doing rapid tests, but the number of such tests – and the number of any confirmed tests from this procedure – do not add to the Covid-19 national tallies.
He stressed that such rapid tests, which are not as reliable as the standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, are only used to help with the early “screening” of people that might have contracted from the virus.
Any close contact tested negative using a rapid test kit would have to redo the procedure after a period of time, while anyone testing positive would have to be confirmed by a PCR test.
Rapid tests are antibody tests, which tests whether a person has developed immunity to coronavirus. These tests, however, have a limited role in diagnosis, according to experts, as it takes the body four days or longer after infection to produce antibodies, which would be too late for the purpose of quick detection and contact tracing.
Indonesia’s ranking among the likes of Ethiopia comes as a surprise as the Southeast Asia’s largest economy has a GDP that is at least three times larger than any of the three other countries in the peer.
Indonesia has a GDP of USD$1.1 trillion (S$ 1.58 trillion), while Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Nigeria records a GDP of US$81 billion, US$250 billion, and US$375 billion, respectively.
Indonesia’s health ministry has been widely criticised for red tape in bringing in test kits as well as equipment to read the PCR test samples.
Recent media reports have also pointed out indications that the ministry’s official Covid-19 death toll nationwide, currently at 209, is an understated figure contradicted by separate announcements from local governments within West Java and the Jakarta municipal government, whichpoint to a higher toll. This has raised questions about the health ministry’s transparency and credibility in disclosing data, the local media have reported.
Jakarta, where about half of the national confirmed cases are from, issued a monthly figure on burials in the capital for March at 4,377, well above the monthly average of 2,745 burials and 2,774 burials last year (2019) and the previous year.
Last week (April 2), Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan said there have been 401 burial conducted using the Covid-19 protocol. The national tally shows the fatality in Jakarta is only at 99.
Meanwhile, Indonesian rupiah is among the currencies that have weakened sharply against the US dollar, as the coronavirus crisis deepened. The rupiah has fallen 15 per cent year-to-date to April 6, while other currencies that have also seen sharp falls include the Mexican peso and Russian rouble, which have fallen by 26 per cent and 19 per cent in the same period.
Some of these countries have spent a lot of their foreign exchange reserves to intervene in the currency markets to curb the fall of their respective currency. Experts, however, have argued that uncertainty and a lack of credibility pose the greatest threat to these countries’ currency values, and improving transparency in their Covid-19 data and boosting testing rates would be the most effective measures to address these countries’ currency depreciation woes.