COVID-19: Indonesia sees spike in cases in transition to new normal; now has most infections in Southeast Asia

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s COVID-19 tally rose to 41,431 on Wednesday (Jun 17), a senior health official said, making it the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia.

Dr Achmad Yurianto, the Ministry of Health’s director-general for infectious disease, told a press briefing that Indonesia recorded 1,031 new infections, while death toll went up by 45.

Indonesia already has the highest number of active cases and deaths in the region, which on Wednesday (Jun 17) stood at 22,912 and 2,276 respectively.

On Jun 9, the number of new daily cases in the country exceeded 1,000 for the first time. Close to 10,000 new infections were recorded over the last 10 days. 

The rise in infections came as Indonesia began to ease its large-scale social restrictions and allowed mosques, offices and shopping malls to reopen with strict health protocols and reduced capacity.  

The central government decided this month to remove in stages the restrictions on the number of passengers in airplanes, trains, ships and buses, and allow schools in low risk areas to reopen.  

Jakarta also entered a “transition phase” on Jun 5, with shops and offices allowed to reopen last week and shopping malls to resume operations on Monday.   

READ: More demand for telemedicine as Indonesians stay away from hospitals amid COVID-19

Speaking at the Wednesday presser, Dr Yurianto denied that the sharp rise in cases was linked to the easing of the social restrictions. 

He said the high numbers were the result of “aggressive contact tracing”. 

“The government has decided to be more aggressive in conducting contact tracing. Testing (capacities) have been greatly increased, and testing is more widespread over the last few weeks,” he said. 

“This is the reason for the sharp increase.”

GOVERNMENT’S DECISION TO EASE RESTRICTIONS PREMATURE: HEALTH EXPERT

Meanwhile, public health expert Hermawan Saputra told CNA that the number of infections could still rise.

“The government’s decision to ease restrictions was premature and went against the criteria set by the World Health Organization (WHO),” he said. “We could soon see the effect.”

The WHO has listed several conditions for relaxing large-scale social restrictions in its latest COVID-19 situation report on Indonesia published on Jun 10.

One of the epidemiological criteria was for an area to have fewer than 5 per cent of samples to test positive over a two-week period. More than one sample can be taken from one person.

None of Java’s six provinces assessed by the WHO between May 25 and Jun 7 had met the criteria, the report said.

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