Health officials in Indonesia attribute the massive surge in COVID-19 to the emergence of the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India. The number of new cases per day has more than tripled in recent weeks, but some of the country’s leading infectious disease experts say it’s true The reason is closer to home.
“The spread of this virus variant is very fast,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin acknowledged in an online seminar on Sunday, adding that the variant has passed its port in Indonesia. Stand firm.
“Because there are cargoes in many seaports in Indonesia, and many seaports are also from India, so they enter from there,” he said.
But experts interviewed by Al Jazeera said, Delta variant Not the main problem.
They said the surge was the result of travel at the end of Ramadan-many people ignored travel bans to return home, lack of a unified health policy, information confusion, privatization of testing systems, and ineffective tracking.
Although travel to domestic airports and ferry terminals is restricted from April 22 to May 24, the government estimates that between 5 and 6 million people will still move between the most densely populated islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia during the holidays. .
Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, Bali’s most senior virologist and a professor at Udayana University, said: “All COVID variants are worrying, but it has not been proven that the Delta variant is more important. Fatal.” “It only won a silver medal; Indonesia’s champion is still the Alpha variant. I think the Delta variant was used as a scapegoat due to the government’s inability to control the pandemic.”
Pay attention to the economy
Health authorities reported 12,624 cases on Thursday — the highest single-day increase since February — bringing the total number of cases in Indonesia to nearly 2 million.
Mahathirka said that it is almost impossible to determine the cause of the surge because the infection rate is “underestimated” so that Indonesia “cannot refer to” health data, but he pointed out some possible reasons.
“People who travel during Ramadan played a role, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But we are a chaotic country. Most of our attention is focused on the economy. People are experiencing exhaustion and fatigue from COVID. In Denpasar, the capital of (Bali) where I live, cafes and restaurants are full every night.”
Ahmad Utomo, a molecular biology consultant specializing in the diagnosis of lung infections in Jakarta, agreed that the Delta variant was used to cover up the mismanagement of the pandemic.
“I totally agree with this. No matter what the variant is, it needs human activity to replicate it,” he said. “Indonesia has done a good job in genome tracking, which is why they know that the Delta variant is here.
“But the Delta variant,” Utomo explained, “It’s like a sports car. It can go very fast. But even a sports car can only follow the road you give it. You have to solve the problem of human mobility to slow it down. Its speed.”
Utomo said that too many people do not comply with health procedures and travel bans, and the government’s failure to invest in testing and tracking has made the situation worse.
“When people want to travel by ferry or plane in Indonesia, they need to pay for testing, so a huge industry has emerged to meet the demand,” he said. “But tracking has no money, so it was just ignored.”
‘It will get very bad’
Dr. Dicky Budiman is an epidemiologist who helped formulate the 20-year epidemic management strategy of the Indonesian Ministry of Health. He said that although the Delta variant is more contagious than the Alpha variant, it is the latter that is driving the current outbreak.
“Currently, the spread of the Delta variant is very small, and the Alpha variant is being spread by community members who violate the travel ban,” he told Al Jazeera. “I agree that the Delta variant is used as a scapegoat. It has been more than a year since we entered the pandemic, but the government has proven that it cannot control COVID-19.”
Although the Alpha variant may still be dominant, Buduman warns that it is only a matter of time before the Delta variant takes over.
He worries that Indonesia may soon face an epidemic similar to that of India.
“The Delta variant will cause infection next month,” he said. “I predict that there will be a large number of cases in the community in July, and the death rate in Java will increase because 40% of Indonesia’s population lives on the island, and this density puts them in a very dangerous situation.
“If you ask me how bad things will get, then it will get very bad and the mortality rate will be higher, because we can see from what happened in India, the pattern is very clear: Delta variants are in those cases like this The country where it is done has a greater impact without sufficient social distancing, wearing masks, testing and tracking, and vaccinations.”
Since only 1% of positive cases in Indonesia have been genomically tracked, there is no conclusive data showing the share of infections attributable to specific variants.
Dr. Nadia Wiweko, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in charge of COVID-19 vaccination, acknowledged that travel has played a role in accelerating the outbreak.
“Due to community mobility during Ramadan, there is an increasing trend of cases,” Viveco told Al Jazeera. “Before, we had 3,000 cases a day, but now we have more than 9,000 cases.”
‘Not too late’
With the support of effective testing and contact tracing, developed countries have successfully contained the pandemic through mass vaccination programs.
Indonesia is the site of the late-stage test of China’s Kexing vaccine. It started its campaign in January, but still only succeeded in vaccinating 4.3% of the population.
Since the pandemic began at the end of last year, the government has been worried about the economy because it fears that it will not be able to provide social protection for its 270 million people—not to mention food parcels. About 10% of Indonesians live below the poverty line.
Wiweko said the government is now studying a micro-blockade strategy for high-infection areas.
“We have issued regulations to implement micro-scale community activities in all provinces, cities and regions. It’s like [large-scale social restrictions] But adapt to local conditions,” she said.
Wiweko said the strategy includes targeted isolation and treatment, work-from-home regulations, and restrictions on shopping time. She added that the tracing has also increased from 5 to 10 traces for each positive case to 20 to 30.
“We know people are worried,” she said, “but it’s not too late to stop the peak of cases.”
But Budiman warned that the micro-blockade would prove ineffective.
“They are still overly concerned about the economic consequences, but sooner or later they will have to reconsider their response, because the experience of many other countries shows that there is only a complete lockdown, coupled with increased testing and tracking, and then isolation and quarantine, and large-scale The vaccination program can effectively control the Delta variant,” he said.
Utomo expressed a similar view, “The solution is simple: implement health protocols, test, track, and vaccinate. They must stick to their strategy.”
Even with the surge in cases, Indonesia is still discussing allowing foreign tourists to return to popular destinations such as Bali as early as July, which hosted 10 million foreigners in 2019 (the last year before the pandemic) to restart the island’s economic.
“The Lancet published an article saying that the only way to deal with an outbreak is to eliminate it, not alleviate it,” Utomo said.
“Our leaders must overwhelm the curve and don’t worry about whether people will vote for them in the election. Otherwise, we will never be able to escape this pandemic.”