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Third wave encroaches

Jakarta Post Editorial - January 17, 2022

Jakarta – Slowly but surely, the country has seen its COVID-19 caseload rise over the past few weeks as a result of the Omicron variant. As booster vaccine doses are administered to high-risk groups, more stringent measures are needed to mitigate the impacts of a potentially large-scale outbreak.

The Health Ministry has predicted that the third wave of the pandemic could crest in the second or third week of February. At their peak, new daily infections could range from 40,000 to 55,000, according to ministry spokesperson Siti Nadia Tarmizi.

Of course, we want to avoid this, especially given the grave impact of the first and second waves on the public health system. We recall the days of exhausted, overworked health workers, a number of whom lost their lives, and of hospitals running out of beds and equipment, unable to admit or properly care for everyone seeking treatment.

The Health Ministry's forecast bodes ill for Indonesia's preparations for the Moto Grand Prix race at the newly built Mandalika circuit in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. The race is scheduled for March 18 to 20, but the participating riders and their teams are set to gather in Lombok on Feb. 11-13 for test sessions.

Ensuring that the Moto GP show goes on will provide extra impetus for the government to do what is necessary to contain the spread of the virus. But even without the international event, the state should do everything possible to prevent the worst.

As of Sunday, the government had confirmed 748 cases of the Omicron variant. Three quarters of the people who tested positive were travelers arriving from overseas, mostly from the Middle East. Local transmission may appear low so far, but this gives us cause for concern, as it could suggest that the government has been unable to properly trace the spread of the highly contagious illness.

The uptick of cases should come as no surprise, however, given the relative laxity of travel restrictions. The government has opted for inconvenience over express prohibition, imposing mandatory PCR testing and a seven-day quarantine for overseas arrivals.

At least seven regions have reported Omicron infections, with the most recorded in Jakarta. The city confirmed 412 new cases on Wednesday, the highest in over four months.

Students are among those infected, perhaps one of the consequences of the government's "back to school" policy. Students nationwide resumed classroom instruction on Jan. 3, ending one and a half years of online learning.

As the government has dismissed any possibility of revoking the policy, discipline in preventative measures is imperative for the protection of school-aged children and their families.

The government claims to have increased testing, tracing and treatment, especially in Java and Bali, in response to the increase in Omicron infection, but we have learned that the improvements still fail to meet international standards.

Apart from vaccinating everyone as soon as possible, including the administration of a booster dose, coordinated and consistent efforts are needed to enforce firm health protocols. Leniency would be the beginning of tragedy.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/01/16/third-wave-encroaches.htm