First cases of Omicron detected in Indonesia

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Last week, Indonesia officially registered its first cases of the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, which has quickly spread to Southeast Asia. The variant was finally discovered after two weeks in which the Indonesian government refused to impose urgent public health measures to prevent the arrival and spread of Omicron.

Workers in protective gear lower coffin of COVID-19 victim to bury in special section of Pedurenan cemetery designated to deal with rising death toll from coronavirus outbreak in Bekasi , West Java, Indonesia, Monday July 26, 2021 (AP Photo / Achmad Ibrahim)

The Department of Health has so far reported three infections with Omicron, all linked to overseas travelers. Spokeswoman Siti Nadia Tarmizi told local magazine Tempo this week that the ministry had traced 250 close contacts of the three confirmed cases, including 10 people who tested positive for COVID-19. Genome sequencing is underway to determine if it is the Omicron variant.

The first case was detected on December 15. The victim had no recent travel history abroad and was a cleaning worker at Wisma Atlet Emergency Hospital in Kemayoran District in Jakarta, a facility established in March 2020 to treat patients with the condition. COVID-19 and quarantine returning Indonesians. from abroad.

The worker reportedly contracted Omicron with a citizen returning from Nigeria on November 27, who was quarantined in Wisma Atlet.

The next day, the government announced five more suspected cases, including three Chinese nationals at a hospital in Manado, North Sulawesi, and two Indonesians who had returned from South America and Britain. The latter two were confirmed as Omicron cases on Friday, after authorities completed genome sequencing. Both were also quarantined at Wisma Atlet Hospital.

The Department of Health was able to identify the five people and the first case using a specific type of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test capable of detecting failure of the S gene target (SGTF) , which is one of the identifiers of Omicron mutations.

The Omicron variant, after first appearing in South Africa last month, has recently been reported in a number of Indonesia’s neighbors, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified the highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant strain as a “variant of concern” and a “very high risk” almost a month ago, warning world governments that the cases of ‘Omicron could double all ones and a half to three. days.

Despite the obvious danger, no serious health measures have been implemented. Instead, the Indonesian government made a conscious decision to continue with its reopening plans, through a “vaccine only” strategy, and to force the population to “live with the virus”.

President Joko Widodo said in a speech broadcast live last week that Omicron’s arrival was “inevitable” and warned the public against complacency as restrictions are relaxed.

Widodo reiterated false claims that Omicron is “gentle” and that vaccines provide effective protection. “It is important to be alert but we must not panic because so far Omicron has not shown any characteristics that could endanger patients, especially those who have been vaccinated,” he said. declared.

He then addressed the population: “Even if the domestic situation is close to normal, do not relax in the implementation of health protocols. In fact, not only is the situation far from normal, but if anyone is guilty of disregarding public safety, it is Widodo’s government.

The limited mobility restrictions on public activities, introduced on November 29, remain the only measures to slow transmission. The more stringent measures planned were removed two weeks ago. The government’s response is largely confined to helpless public appeals. Widodo called on citizens and state officials to temporarily refrain from traveling abroad, while Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin called for masks and physical distancing.

Despite recent travel bans imposed on some African countries, as many as 3,000 people have continued to enter Indonesia every day over the past month, according to Kompas.

Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who is leading the official response to COVID-19 in Java and Bali, revealed on Monday that the government had prepared “emergency measures” to be implemented only if certain unspecified conditions regarding Omicron spread are present. But until then, the current inadequate restrictions will be maintained, to be further relaxed as soon as possible.

After the announcement of the first case, Luhut highlighted the financial concerns of the companies underlying the government’s pandemic policy: “The development of the Omicron variant will be the key to the economic recovery in 2022. If Omicron were to lead to significant hospitalizations and vaccines would lose their effectiveness, recovery would be slower than expected. “

Hostile to any tightening of restrictions, Indonesia’s financial elite fear that any withdrawal from the reopening program could seriously affect economic activity, especially consumer spending during the holiday season.

Josua Pardede, chief economist at Bank Permata, predicted that Omicron would have a limited effect on fourth-quarter GDP growth, confident that the government will continue to remove social restrictions during the holidays. “Omicron can be a threat [economically] if not mitigated by the government, ”he said.

Rully Arya Wisnubroto, senior analyst at public bank Mandiri, told the Jakarta Post, “We see that the uncertainty is still high, [but] the likelihood of continued economic growth is still enough [high]. “Bank Mandiri predicts that the GDP will grow by 5-5.5% next year, in line with the targets set in the state budget.

The hope that the Indonesian economy, which suffered a major contraction last year, will return to pre-pandemic conditions in 2022 rests on the hope that the government’s reckless and homicidal reopening plans go unchecked.

Responding to recent discussions on the reimposition of lockdown measures, Gilbert Simanjuntak, of the Jakarta Regional Legislative Council and member of Widodo’s PDI-P party, praised the “collective immunity” policies of the British and Brazilian governments. He also claimed, like Widodo, that the spread of Omicron was inevitable.

In contrast, medical experts have criticized the lack of public health barriers against Omicron, which has ravaged countries with relatively higher vaccine coverage, including the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Only 38 percent of Indonesia’s population is doubly vaccinated, with Health Minister Budi deeming Indonesia unlikely to meet its 50 percent target before the end of the year.

Dicky Budiman, Indonesian epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, described Omicron as a “clear threat” to the Indonesian health system. He noted that, as viral transmission still occurs across the country, Indonesia “is not really safe and has not yet escaped the crisis.”

He added: “Moreover, Indonesia is not a country that isolated itself last month. [the first Omicron case] has been found, and genomic surveillance remains limited. He called for a drastic expansion of the national contact tracing program to track the spread of the variant, with at least 2-5% of all positive cases each month to be reviewed for Omicron.


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