The position of ambassador to India is a very senior position within Kemlu, Indonesia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, and Arto has held a number of other senior positions including deputy ambassador in Canberra throughout his successful career.
More than 20 drug companies around the world are racing to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has so far infected more than 6.6 million people and caused at least 390,000 deaths.
Arto’s comments suggesting he would not take a vaccine – if one is discovered – fly in the face of recent comments from Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
Late last month, the President said Indonesia “must be able to produce a vaccine ourselves” and that he was very pleased a local biomedical institute in Jakarta was working on one.
Retno has argued that a coronavirus vaccine would “really help the Indonesian people” and that if or when one is produced, it “must be accessible and affordable in a timely manner for all countries, especially for developing and the least-developed countries”.
Indonesia has one of the highest rates of confirmed infection in south east Asia, with 28,233 cases as of June 4, and 1698 confirmed deaths. However, local medical experts believe the rate of infection and death is likely far higher.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald sent a series of questions to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry about the Facebook post, including whether the Foreign Minister opposed vaccinations, if they represented the official position of the Indonesian government, and whether the Indonesian government believed push ups and other physical exercise were preferable to a vaccine in combating coronavirus.
Kemlu spokesman Teuku Faizasyah appeared to distance the Foreign Ministry from the Ambassador’s comments.
“The picture you showed me is Pak [Mr] Arto’s daily routine, which I think is personal. Mr Arto is an avid yoga practitioner. I wonder why a media outlet like SMH would have such a fantasy on individual activities to boost his/her stamina while a vaccine is still not readily available?”
“If that is his own opinion do we need to question it as the institution’s position? Rather than making its own assumptions and jumping to a conclusion, it would be proper journalistically if the SMH asked Mr Arto directly on his path for healthy life and wellness.”
Arto was also contacted directly for comment.
The spread of the coronavirus has prompted a fresh wave of conspiracy theories among opponents of vaccines around the world, some of whom have even linked the disease to the roll out of 5G mobile phone networks.
These claims have no basis in scientific fact.
James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions, won a Kennedy Award for outstanding foreign correspondent and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue.