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Indonesia Now Has The Most Confirmed COVID-19 Cases In Southeast Asia

Indonesians at a traditional market in Bekasi, West Java, on Thursday appear to be ignoring social distancing rules the government put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Indonesians at a traditional market in Bekasi, West Java, on Thursday appear to be ignoring social distancing rules the government put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Indonesia now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in all of Southeast Asia, according to numbers released by the government on Friday.

The Health Ministry in Jakarta reports 5,923 positive cases — following the country's largest daily jump of more than 400 new infections since Thursday. COVID-19 has killed 520 people in Indonesia. In the region, only China, where the novel coronavirus originated, has a higher death toll.

"Transmission is still occurring. This has become a national disaster," Health Ministry official Achmad Yurianto said on Friday, Reuters reports.

He also said testing has increased up to threefold in two weeks.

Indonesia's government has faced criticism for not testing earlier and for not swiftly implementing strict social distancing and travel restrictions.

Indonesia, which is the world's fourth most populous country, did not confirm its first cases until March 2. Since then, cases have grown exponentially and on a daily basis, spreading to all 34 provinces across an archipelago of some 17,000 islands. Still, the first lockdown orders weren't issued until over a month later, and the restrictions only applied to the Jakarta capital region and its population of some 30 million.

This week, President Joko Widodo expanded the restrictions to some other parts of the country. He also advised the public to stay home during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts later in April. It's a big ask of the world's most populous Muslim country, as estimated 19.5 million people traveled for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan last year, according to Bloomberg News.

Experts modeling COVID-19 projections for Indonesia say the outlook is grim.

"It could be [another Italy] if the government intervention continues to be in the category of light to moderate and not high-scale intervention," Iwan Ariawan, a biostatistician at University of Indonesia, told the South China Morning Post.The university predicts cases could soar to more than 1.5 million across the country, with more than 140,000 deaths.

Indonesia's latest case numbers mean the country has surpassed its neighbor the Philippines, which previously had the most known cases in Southeast Asia. The Philippines now has the second-highest confirmed cases in the region at 5,878, and Malaysia and Singapore are close behind, both with more than 5,000 confirmed cases.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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