A 53-year-British woman has become Indonesia’s first confirmed COVID-19 fatality. Officials fear she may have been already infected when she landed for a family vacation on the idyllic island of Bali.
Indonesia’s national coronavirus spokesperson and the head of Bali’s virus task force disagree whether doctors knew she had the virus. Bali authorities say the Indonesian Government knew a critically ill British tourist in Bali had tested positive to coronavirus, but failed to alert them until after she died.
The head of Bali’s COVID-19 Taskforce, I Dewa Made Indra, claimed authorities in Jakarta clearly identified the woman as ‘patient number 25’ on a list of confirmed cases in Indonesia on Tuesday, but said he was not told of her condition.
An Indonesian Government spokesman had addressed media in Jakarta on Tuesday evening, confirming that, at that time, there were 27 coronavirus cases in the country. The number has since risen to 34.
Mr Indra said his staff only discovered the woman had tested positive to the virus after she died on Wednesday morning.
“The results from the tests on this patient were not yet available, so her status was still ‘under observation’,” he said.
However, Indonesia’s national coronavirus spokesman Achmad Yurianto said doctors in Bali were told the woman had tested positive.
The woman already had several underlying health conditions, including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypertension and a cardio-pulmonary condition.
She arrived in Bali on February 29 and tested negative to thermal sensors at the airport, but within a few days she had symptoms consistent with coronavirus. Swabs from the woman were sent to Jakarta for testing because no hospital or clinic in Bali had the necessary test kits.
Mr. Indra said the results were not relayed to authorities in Bali until after her death in Bali’s Sanglah Hospital.
Dr Yurianto refused to reveal even the location of the other 33 confirmed patients, except for a small cluster of cases in Jakarta. In that cluster a 64-year old woman and her 31-year old daughter became ill in mid-February after contact with a Japanese woman visiting from Malaysia, who later tested positive.
Most of the 33 cases are believed to be Indonesian citizens. The government has confirmed that three are foreigners but won’t reveal their nationalities, nor will it say where they are being treated, apparently for fear of sparking panic or discrimination against certain nationalities. At least 17 are ‘imported’ cases, meaning Indonesians who have recently returned from overseas and presumably contracted the virus abroad. One man is suspected of being the first case of local transmission in Indonesia, but again, the government will not reveal where he is from in Indonesia, or where he is being treated.
Indonesian authorities have come in for prolonged criticism over their handling of coronavirus, with questions about how many people were tested, how accurate the tests are, and what efforts they have made to trace the contacts of suspect cases.
Until last week, fewer than 200 people had been tested for the virus in Indonesia, a country of 265 million people. Even until early March Indonesian authorities continued to insist there were no cases of the virus in the country. Even as the death toll and infection rate in Wuhan rose exponentially, Indonesia was slow to ban flights to and from China, including several direct flights to Wuhan.
Almost 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited Bali last year, and several thousand were left stranded on the resort island after flights were finally suspended in early February.
Local media reports suggest there are at least nine more patients in Bali with symptoms consistent with coronavirus, including foreigners.
The Jakarta Post newspaper last weekend reported that at least five suspected COVID-19 patients had died in Indonesia since late February, including a 65-year-old man in Jakarta, a 50-year-old-man in West Java, and two men in central Java.
The report said some of the suspected patients had died while waiting for their test results. It said all the tests eventually came back negative.