By Stanley Widianto
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia on Friday reported 35 new coronavirus cases, including two toddlers, bringing its total to 69, as a rights group urged authorities to be more transparent about the spread of the virus in the world’s fourth most-populous nation.
Health Ministry official Achmad Yurianto told reporters the new cases ranged in age from 2 to 80, and that three people out of the latest cases had died.
The patients were found after tracing their contacts back to earlier confirmed cases, Yurianto said without disclosing the location.
Indonesia only confirmed its first cases of the virus last week while some neighbors had reported scores of cases far earlier, raising concerns among medical experts about infections either not being reported or going undetected.
In addition, some officials have appeared to play down the risks from the virus as well as at times declining to specify the location of an outbreak.
“The central government is not transparent in fulfilling the public’s right to know about the spread of the coronavirus in Indonesia,” Amnesty International director Usman Hamid said in a statement.
“If this continues to happen, authorities could potentially breach the public right to information… and the public right to health.”
Speaking at an event at Jakarta’s airport, President Joko Widodo defended the stance of not revealing travel records and the history of contacts among patients.
He said this was to “consider the risk of panic among the public” and the effects giving out such information could have on patients when they recovered.
Authorities on Friday sanitized parts of Jakarta’s airport and also disinfected mosques.
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States said in a study last month Indonesia’s lack of confirmed cases at that time “may suggest the potential for undetected cases”, urging authorities there to strengthen outbreak surveillance and control.
As of Friday, Indonesia has tested 970 people according to Health Ministry data.
Starting Monday, the health ministry’s Yurianto said two additional labs will be available to help examine samples.
Indonesian media reported on Friday that one person confirmed to have the disease had fled a hospital in Jakarta.
But Yurianto told reporters that the patient had since returned.
Five people had recovered from the disease, Yurianto said, while another was expected to recover soon.
(Additional reporting by Fathin Ungku in Singapore; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie)