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House to set up team to monitor government COVID-19 handling

A journalist has her body temperature taken at Sulianti Suroso Infectious Diseases Hospital (RSPI Sulianti Suroso) in North Jakarta amid fears of a COVID-19 outbreak on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Antara/Muhammad Adimaja)

The Jakarta Post

  • Ghina Ghaliya The Jakarta Post Jakarta   /   Thu, March 5, 2020   /   04:25 pm


Lawmakers are planning to form a special team involving various House of Representatives commissions that will work to monitor and evaluate the government’s work in responding to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Lawmakers said the government should not only focus on handling the existing cases but also on containing the virus amid mounting public fears, as well as doubts over how the government is responding to the outbreak.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced on Monday two positive cases of coronavirus: a 31-year-old woman (Case 1) and her 64-year-old mother (Case 2), both residents of Depok, West Java. Both tested positive for the coronavirus after coming into contact with a Japanese woman who later tested positive in Malaysia.

Deputy chairman of the House’s Commission IX overseeing health, Melki Laka Lena, said the team would involve members of her commission, as well as of Commission I overseeing information and defense, and Commission II overseeing home affairs, among other commissions. The team would likely be in the form of a special committee, or Pansus.

“It might now be called a coronavirus desk, but we would decide on [the name] later. The important thing is to sit together first, we must be quick,” Melki of the Golkar Party said.

Commission I had agreed on Feb. 24 to support the establishment of the working committee in question, according to commission chairwoman Meutya Hafid of the Golkar Party.

She also said that at a time like this the Health Ministry could not work alone, and the participation of other state institutions, such as the military and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) — both working partners of Commission I – was important.

“At a critical time like this, we believe the roles of the military and the BIN are quite important. We will discuss later how far such military involvement is needed,” she said.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has so far assisted the government several times in handling the coronavirus, most notably during the evacuation of Indonesian citizens from China’s Hubei province to Natuna Island for quarantine and Indonesian crew members from the World Dream cruise ship to Sebaru Island.

They had also helped find suitable locations for the government to set up a hospital for COVID-19 patients.

On Wednesday, TNI commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto and Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono visited Galang Island in Batam, Riau Islands, where the government is planning to transform a former camp for Vietnamese refugees into the special outbreak hospital.

The planned hospital is expected to be able to accommodate around 1,000 patients and have 50 isolation rooms, which will take up 2 percent of the hospital’s total capacity.

Galang Island was a refugee asylum during the Vietnam war from 1955 to 1975. The site also has access to clean water and electricity, while the island is located 50 kilometers from Hang Nadim International Airport.

House Commission I lawmaker Bobby Adhityo Rizaldi called on the TNI to be prepared in helping the government prevent the spread of the virus. He said, however, that further military involvement was only needed if public health services managed by civilians were no longer able to handle patients suspected of having contracted the coronavirus.

“Or if the government decides to isolate certain areas,” the Golkar politician said. “It [military assistance] is like a lifebuoy on a ship, it’s best not to use it but when the situation is urgent, it’s ready.”

Another Commission I member, Charles Honoris of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), meanwhile, urged the government to ensure the privacy of its citizens in relation to the coronavirus handling.

He said the disclosure of personal information of coronavirus patients, whether through social media or other platforms, should be taken seriously as a violation of citizens’ privacy.

House speakers will discuss the proposed Pansus to see whether or not its establishment is necessary, deputy speaker and Gerindra Party politician Sufmi Dasco Ahmad said.

“Because the House is currently in recess for the next three weeks, we will discuss it after the recess,” he said.

House speaker of the PDI-P Puan Maharani urged the government to immediately create a national level team for coronavirus handling, which would centralize the coordination of all related stakeholders, citing that several regions had already formed special teams on coronavirus, namely Jakarta, South Tangerang and West Java.

“A national team is important to ensure that authorities are working together to prevent the spread of the virus and to prove to the public that Indonesia is being vigilant and serious in dealing with the outbreak,” she said.

Panic buying of face masks, hand sanitizer and everyday goods such as instant noodles hit supermarkets and drugstores in various areas in the country after the government confirmed the first two COVID-19 cases. Fake news and misinformation on the virus are also rampant on social media.