Eileen Ng, Singapore – Indonesia believes it can overcome the next Covid-19 wave, likely driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, as most of its population have high levels of antibodies due to past infections and vaccination against the virus.
In an interview with The Straits Times on Tuesday (June 14), Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said barring any new variants emerging, the country would be ready to treat the coronavirus as endemic later this year.
"I strongly believe based on the evidence that it will be milder than the Delta and Omicron waves," he said, referring to the next surge that is expected in July.
This was because the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which were first detected in South Africa, peaked at a lower level than that seen with the original Omicron wave.
Additionally, a serological survey in March showed that 99.2 per cent of Indonesia's population has Covid-19 antibodies due to a combination of previous infections and vaccinations. This was higher than the figure of 88.6 per cent reported in a similar survey in December last year.
Indonesia's Covid-19 cases have generally been on a downward trend and its current positivity rate – which measures the proportion of those testing positive – is below 5 per cent. Meanwhile most restrictions have been eased.
"Hopefully by July, (we will reach) the peak of the BA.4 and BA.5 variant, and because our antibodies level is still high, we believe the severity level and hospitalisation rates will be lowered," Mr Budi said.
With the next wave expected to wane around August or September, and barring any new variants emerging, Mr Budi said "hopefully that will be a good sign to transition from pandemic to endemic".
Still, that does not mean Indonesia will be complacent.
Mr Budi said the country will accelerate the rollout of its booster jabs and continue to urge its people to practise self responsibility by wearing face masks, adopting good hygiene, conducting regular self-tests and isolating themselves if they test positive for Covid-19.
The minister later spoke at the Indonesia-Singapore Business Forum organised by the Indonesian embassy in Singapore and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where he highlighted Indonesia's healthcare reforms, including changes to how primary care is approached. The Straits Times is the media partner for the event.
"We need to change the mindset... focusing on keeping you healthy is much more important than curing you when you are sick," he said.
Also on the panel was Singapore's Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who outlined Singapore's strategy in tackling the pandemic, including by using technology such as health apps as part of daily life.
Singapore, he said, is facing a "silver tsunami", with one in six of its residents currently aged above 65. By 2030, this figure will rise to one in four, he noted.
Mr Ong said one major policy change Singapore has seen since Covid-19 is the whole GP, or general practitioner and family doctor, sector becoming part of the public health system.
"They are out there, attending to patients with Covid, making decisions 'do you rest at home, do you go to hospital or do you go to isolation facility, do I test you with ART or PCR'... they are making all those triaging and medical decisions on the ground as part of our system," he said.
Another speaker, Mr Yet Kum Meng, the chief executive officer and executive director of OUE Lippo Healthcare, outlined some challenges the healthcare sector needed to overcome. This includes data sharing between the public and private sectors, as well as within the private sector, that will entail tackling issues concerning data privacy and data security.
Fellow panellist Levana Sani, the co-founder of biotechnology company Nalagenetics, said pharmacogenomic information, or data on how a person's genes affect his response to medication, should be accessible on the lab level and be integrated into electronic health records.