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‘I can’t get on a plane’: sick Aussie medical worker stuck in Jakarta

Health Ministry officials have said more than 100 hospitals are ready to accept patients who have contracted the disease and that more labs that can actually process tests are coming online.

But Indonesia had allowed just one lab, the government-owned Health Research and Development Agency lab, to conduct testing to date and it lags far behind neighbouring countries in the number of people tested.

A security checks a passenger's body temperature at Tugu train station on March 12, 2020 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

A security checks a passenger’s body temperature at Tugu train station on March 12, 2020 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.Credit:Ulet Ifansasti

On Thursday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said rapid testing on a massive scale would be rolled out across the country. The news came as the number of cases rises rapidly, and after the national government dragged its feet for more than a month in responding to the crisis.

The government’s rapid response team would talk to religious bodies and institutions about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at mass gatherings, he said.

International and local schools in Jakarta have suspended classes and expats are leaving in growing numbers. The President told people that working, studying and worshipping from home should “not be seen as an opportunity for a holiday”.

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Joko also flagged the use of government owned hotels and the Asian Games athletes village to accommodate coronavirus patients.

The Age and The Herald have spoken to multiple health professionals working across Indonesia who uniformly said the country’s health system was already struggling to keep up with demand for services.

The Australian man described symptoms that had progressed from diarrhoea and fever, initially, to a sore throat and cough, then chest tightness and laboured breathing.

“Given the current circumstances, getting tested for Covid-19 is the responsible thing to do,” he said.

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“So I fronted at Gatot Soebroto [a major hospital in Jakarta]… they investigated my symptoms and travel and asked me to return today [Monday] for testing… I returned, waited one hour in a registration queue, and by the time I registered I was told that my likely screening appointment would be on Thursday,” he said.

“This screening appointment is not testing. It is a screening appointment in which they determine if you qualify for testing.”

“I am unable to return to Australia for testing and treatment [as] it is irresponsible to fly under the circumstances… I wouldn’t qualify for medivac and an airline wouldn’t let me get on a plane.

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The man, who undertakes work in Jakarta related to the country’s health system, said it was clear the system was already unable to cope with the number of people presenting for testing or for medical treatment.

“It is chaos already. The system at Gatot Sabroeto was a mess. Panic and hypochondria were clearly clogging the system for genuinely unwell patients to get testing, and there is no intervention to triage this properly or remedy this. There were literally hundreds of people presenting for testing. Referral letters for testing are only available from one of eight nominated hospitals in Jakarta.”

A mass rally of thousands of Muslim pilgrims in South Sulawesi has been postponed at the last minute, amid fears the event could lead to a rash of new infections. A similar recent event in Malaysia led to dozens of new cases being reported.

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