The government needs to expand its surveillance capacity in order to detect and swiftly contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, which the World Health Organisation recently named as a variant of concern, experts said.
Indonesia has so far tightened its borders in response to the B.1.1.529 variant, which was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Nov 24 and was officially listed as a variant of concern two days later, joining an increasing list of countries that have made similar moves to prevent the spread of the new variant in their territories.
In addition, the mandatory quarantine period for arrivals from the rest of those countries was lengthened to up to seven days from the previous requirement of three-to-five days.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo led a closed-door Cabinet meeting in Jakarta on Monday to discuss the Omicron variant, as well as the government’s planned curbs during the year-end holidays as authorities scramble to prevent another wave of Covid-19 cases in the country.
University of Indonesia’s School of Medicine professor Tjandra Yoga Aditama said the government should at least double its whole-genome sequencing capacity to be able to sufficiently detect and monitor the development of the new coronavirus variant in the country.
Indonesia has so far submitted 8,906 whole-genome sequencing samples to the GISAID online database for sharing viral genomes, Tjandra said. Other countries such as South Africa have submitted 23,452 samples, while India has carried out a total of 80,446 whole-genome sequencing analyses.
Tjandra said that considering Indonesia’s population size of 270 million people, the government should have conducted at least 20,000 whole-genome sequencing analyses as of now.
Tjandra said since the first Omicron virus variant was detected in South Africa on Nov 9, there was still a possibility that people arriving in Indonesia from the banned-list countries in the past two weeks had contracted the Omicron variant.
“The government should track travellers arriving from the 11 red list countries before the ban was in effect and check whether they have tested positive for Covid-19 or not,” he said.
The government imposed travel bans starting on Monday on foreigners with a history of being in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini, Malawi, Angola, Zambia or Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Indonesian citizens who have visited these countries or territories are required to observe a two-week quarantine period upon returning home.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said earlier this month that Indonesia currently only had 12 laboratories that could carry out whole-genome sequencing, with a total capacity of processing around 1,500-1,800 samples per month. — The Jakarta Post/ANN