March 16, 2020 / 2:02 PM / 23 days ago

Indonesia not considering lockdown as ministers tested for COVID-19

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday the authorities were not now considering imposing a lockdown to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, as the leader, his wife and a number of ministers awaited the results of tests for the virus.

A volunteer from Indonesia's Red Cross, wearing a protective suit, walks while carrying a disinfectant sprayer at a school closed amid the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

The world’s fourth most populous country has reported a spike in cases with the number of confirmed infections hitting 134, while five people have died.

Jakarta and several other provinces and cities have already announced school closures starting this week, and civil servants and some companies are asking staff to work from home.

Widodo told a televised briefing at the presidential palace in Bogor that “up to now we are not considering anything in the direction of lockdown”.

He said measures to tackle the virus would be calibrated to ensure they did not “exacerbate the economic impact that can harden the people’s lives”.

At a separate press conference in the capital Jakarta, three patients who had recovered from the coronavirus were presented to reporters as evidence that the disease passes. Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto gave them a tumbler of a herbal drink which he said had been concocted by the president to help them stay healthy.

The rupiah currency dropped 1% on Monday, while the stock index plunged more than 4%, extending falls amid capital outflows on concerns over the impact of the outbreak.

Some neighbouring countries have been taking far more aggressive steps, including the Philippines, which has put half the population on lockdown.

On Saturday, Indonesian Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi was confirmed to be suffering from COVID-19 after attending a cabinet meeting last week led by Widodo.

Widodo and his wife, as well as some ministers, have been tested for the virus as a precaution.

Several ministers have said they had tested negative but, when questioned about his result, the president told reporters to ask his doctor.

Asked how mainly Muslim Indonesia would manage during the holy month of Ramadan starting in late April if the outbreak peaked then, Widodo said the state procurement agency had been told to ensure stocks of basic needs and private hospitals could also assist state hospitals.

Indonesia confirmed 17 new coronavirus cases on Monday, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said, with 14 in the capital Jakarta, where most have been clustered.

Indonesia’s central bank said in a statement that banknotes and coins would be disinfected before redistribution as a precaution against the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Indonesia confirmed its first cases of the virus on March 2, while some countries in the region had reported scores of cases far earlier, raising concerns among medical experts about infections either not being reported or going undetected.

Writing by Ed Davies

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