JAKARTA, Jan 4 (Jakarta Post/ANN): President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo waxed lyrical on Monday about his administration’s success in overturning last year’s disastrous wave of Covid-19 infections as he symbolically opened the first day of 2022 trading at the bourse amid a spike in Omicron cases.
By most accounts, especially considering the sheer size of its population, Indonesia has done remarkably well to overcome what Jokowi called a “very difficult year”, which saw over 143,000 deaths occur nearly 10 months since the nation reported its first Covid-19-related fatality.
The country has also curbed the number of daily new infections from a peak of around 56,000 cases in July of last year to just 174 as of Sunday, thanks in large part to the state’s success in administering more than 281 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, the President said.
“To put 280 million shots into arms within a year is no mean feat. Due to our geography, we’ve had to vaccinate on boats, on motorcycles and up mountains on foot,” he said in a speech to open the Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX).
The vaccination drive, which started in January last year, has provided full coverage to 114 million Indonesians, more than half of the intended target population.
Of the 34 provinces, at least 27 have administered the first jab of a two-dose vaccine to 70 percent of the targeted population.
Meanwhile, vaccinations for minors ages 6-11, which began last month, have reached 3.8 million doses. For teens up to 17 years old, 17 million are fully inoculated.
“This has been the result of our hard work, from the central government, regional administrations, the military, the police force and intelligence, as well as private companies big and small – all of them have contributed. Civil society has contributed,” the President said.
“Togetherness and gotong royong [mutual cooperation], they are our assets.”
According to Our World In Data, as of Saturday, the total share of people in Indonesia who are fully and partly vaccinated against Covid-19 is 60.03 per cent, more than the global average of 58.31 percent.
In spite of these achievements, Jokowi also outlined some of the challenges that the country faces in 2022, including the spread of the more transmissible Omicron strain of the coronavirus, as well as spurring economic recovery.
On account of this, Jokowi renewed the nation’s pandemic state of emergency in a decree he signed on Dec. 31, 2021. Omicron spreads Even though Indonesia has continued to record daily caseload figures in the low three digits and the death toll had not risen above 20 over the past few weeks, concerns over the new variant of concern continue to grow.
In his weekly update on the pandemic response after a limited Cabinet meeting on Monday, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin revealed that Indonesia had recorded 152 cases of the Omicron variant, almost a two-fold increase over the weekend, all of which originated from returning travelers.
He also said there were now six cases of local transmission – from Medan in North Sumatra and Surabaya in East Java, as well as Bali and Jakarta.
“The good news is that from a clinical perspective, even though Omicron is able to bypass the protection afforded by antibodies spurred on by a vaccine, the T-cells are able to offer good protection against it.
That explains the lower rate of hospitalisation,” he said in Monday’s virtual briefing, in reference to new research out of South Africa.
Budi revealed that half of all Omicron patients in the country were asymptomatic, while the rest only displayed mild symptoms of Covid-19 infection. Thirty-four patients have also recovered from the Omicron strain.
In spite of this, the minister warned the public to remain vigilant and disciplined in following health protocols, just as the government begins preparations to deal with a potential spike in cases.
“Thanks to our quarantine policies, we’ve managed to slow down the spread [of the variant] in the country,” the minister said.
“But we still need to be cautious.”
Indonesia has relied heavily on mobility and quarantine restrictions for inbound travelers, which still make up the majority of Omicron cases that authorities have recorded. But Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who heads the country’s pandemic response in Java and Bali, said the government was set to slash its mandatory quarantine period from 10-14 days to 7-10 days, depending on whether the country of departure had recorded instances of the Omicron strain.
The announcement, which would prove beneficial to businesses but is yet to be formalized in any regulation, comes just a few days after the national Covid-19 task force issued a new circular that mandates the length of mandatory quarantine to strictly remain between 10-14 days through all of 2022.
Another part of the government’s strategy in facing the Omicron strain is to roll out vaccine booster shots, which Minister Budi said was expected to start on Jan. 12, with clinical trials at the Indonesian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ITAGI) to be concluded by Jan. 10.
Riris Andono Ahmad, an epidemiologist from Gadjah Mada University, warned the government against issuing any unnecessary protocols that could prove “counterproductive”.
“[Finding the right protocols] is a balancing act; it’s about finding a point that minimizes casualties and economic damages, especially now that the public has grown increasingly frustrated of living under the pandemic for almost two years,” he told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Meanwhile, epidemiologist Dicky Budiman of Griffith University in Australia called Luhut’s proposal to revise down the quarantine period “extremely risky”, considering that the incubation period for the Omicron strain may still extend beyond 10 days.
If the government insists on a shorter quarantine period, Dicky said there should be even stricter requirements for international arrivals, which could range from mandatory booster shots or proof of full vaccine coverage within the past six to seven months. “We don’t want cases to spike again,” he told the Post. - The Jakarta Post/ANN