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.
- A 53-year-old woman British tourist is recorded as Indonesia’s first death from coronavirus
- Indonesia’s national spokesperson on the virus and the head of their taskforce disagree over whether doctors knew she had the virus
- The woman’s husband was by her side when she died
The head of Bali’s COVID-19 Taskforce, I Dewa Made Indra, claims authorities in Jakarta had clearly identified the woman on Tuesday as ‘patient number 25’ on a list of confirmed cases in Indonesia, but says he was not told of her condition.
An Indonesian government spokesman 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 says 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’,” Mr Indra said.
However, Indonesia’s national spokesman on the COVID-19 virus, Achmad Yurianto, says doctors in Bali were told the woman had tested positive.
“As soon as we announced it, it went straight to the doctor in charge of the patient. This is important to do,” Dr Yurianto said.
“The doctor doesn’t have the right to withhold this information from the patient.”
Woman was battling other health issues
The 53-year old British tourist is the first death in Indonesia from the COVID-19 virus. Her husband was with her when she died.
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 had been sent to Jakarta for testing, because no hospital or clinic in Bali has 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.
“When she died, we tried to confirm with the health ministry [in Jakarta] and … we were told this patient was on the list of COVID-19 positive patients announced yesterday, which included case number 25,” Mr Indra said.
Questions over communication
The claims raise questions about the remaining coronavirus patients, and whether relevant authorities have been notified of their condition.
Dr Yurianto is refusing 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.
Local authorities criticised
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.
The Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto attributed the country’s apparent lack of coronavirus to prayer and encouraged all Indonesians to pray harder.
“We owe it to God,” he said late last month.
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 have 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. Although all of the tests eventually came back negative.
In one case, a health official “admitted to the possibility of flawed results from the tests”, the newspaper said.
One virologist told the ABC that because many coronavirus deaths come after several weeks of pneumonia or other critical illness, the patients may die after the virus is no longer traceable in the body, meaning a test could come back negative if done too late.
Ask us your coronavirus questions