Indonesia President Jokowi calls for 'immediate' virus measures review amid Covid-19 spike


Indonesia President Joko Widodo said he had instructed Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan and Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto to head the evaluation of the rising Covid-19 cases in the country. - Jakarta Post/ANN

JAKARTA, Feb 4 (Jakarta Post/ANN): President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has ordered an immediate evaluation of how the public activity restrictions (PPKM) policy has been implemented across the country amid the current spike in infections largely driven by the highly contagious Omicron strain.

The President said he had instructed Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan and Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto to head the evaluation.

Luhut also oversees Indonesia’s pandemic response for Java and Bali, while Airlangga oversees the pandemic response for all other regions.

“I am calling on governors, regents and regional administrations, with assistance from the Indonesian Military and the National Police, to ensure that the health protocols are followed by the people, and to continue to speed up vaccinations,” the President said in Medan, North Sumatra.

Jokowi also urged the people to remain calm amid the ongoing rise in daily cases.

“Maintain discipline, follow the health protocols and reduce unnecessary activities. [People] who are not yet vaccinated need to get one immediately. Those who have been and are eligible for a booster should immediately get the booster,” he added.

Indonesia recorded 27,197 new cases on Thursday, a significant jump from 17,895 new cases on Wednesday.

According to official records, the number of new daily cases jumped from 3,000 on Jan. 24 to more than 16,000 on Tuesday, the largest increase in more than five months.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, a professor from the University of Indonesia medical school, said that evaluating the restrictive policy was critical to mitigating the pandemic. “The President’s call for the PPKM evaluation and the face-to-face learning [policy] are two very important keys for Covid-19 mitigation in the coming days,” he said.

Tjandra said that the emergency PPKM had been implemented last July, when the country was seeing an increase of more than 27,000 new cases during the Delta-driven second wave.

Tjandra also cited a projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington in Seattle, that Omicron would trigger an increase in Indonesia’s daily cases to more than 387,000 by April.

“This [figure] can at least be considered for vigilance and anticipating mitigation [measures],” he said.

The Home Ministry has imposed restriction levels ranging between 1 and 3 of the four-tiered PPKM across the country from Feb. 1 to 14. Greater Jakarta, which remains the epicenter of Indonesia’s Covid-19 outbreak, has stayed at PPKM level 2 this week, as have the majority of other regencies and cities across Java and Bali.

The Jakarta administration has requested authorization from the central government to increase its PPKM level to 3.

“We have proposed the increase,” Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria confirmed on Wednesday, as quoted by Antara, adding that the Jakarta administration deemed the current situation as “worrying”.

Earlier, the central government rejected regional requests to impose tighter curbs, pointing to Omicron’s relatively milder symptoms, the lower hospitalization rate and progress in the national vaccination drive.

The government also reduced the quarantine period for international arrivals.

It also plans to repurpose quarantine facilities as isolation centers to ease the burden on hospitals as authorities altered the Covid-19 assessment indicators amid the third wave of transmission.

Multiple studies have shown that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than its predecessors, but it also appears to be less virulent.

Only a handful of the country’s Omicron cases have shown symptoms of severe disease.

Even though Omicron was perceived to be “less severe, on average”, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also told reporters on Jan. 18 in Geneva that “the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response and costs more lives”.

“Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities,” the WHO chief warned. - The Jakarta Post/ANN

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