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Beware, beware, beware

Jakarta Post Editorial - January 2, 2023

Jakarta – The COVID-19 pandemic is no longer deemed a major health crisis as on Dec. 30, 2022 the government lifted all the mobility restrictions imposed in 2020 to contain the spread of the disease. To follow up the policy, the home minister has issued an instruction governing the transition of COVID-19 from being a pandemic to being endemic.

According to the ministerial instruction, health protocols, such as wearing masks in the correct manner especially in crowded areas, confined spaces and on public transportation, should remain intact. During the transition, the booster shot rollout will be intensified particularly for vulnerable people, such as the elderly, and COVID-19 task forces in the regions should maintain their active monitoring and rapid response to any spike in infections.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo scrapped all the COVID-19 curbs based on statistics that confirmed the outbreak was flattening, if not on a downward trend. New cases stood at 1.7 per million of the population, a positivity rate of 3.3 percent, which is below the World Health Organization's standard of 5 percent, and hospital occupancy rates stood at 4.79 percent as of Dec. 27, 2022.

However, the end of mobility restrictions does not mean the threat is over. The risk is still there and a repeat of the deadly Delta variant-fueled COVID-19 wave remains a possibility, because of mutations in SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes the disease. Most recently Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that Omicron BF.7, the new strain that has sparked a new outbreak in China, has been detected in Indonesia.

The Christmas and New Year holidays have triggered fears about a spike in transmission, but Budi is upbeat that COVID-19 will remain under control. Statistics revealed that the Idul Fitri exodus in May and the soccer premier league, until its suspension following the fatal Oct. 1, 2022 crush in Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, did not substantially increase infections.

This confidence, however, should not lead to complacency. The fact is the much-needed herd immunity against COVID-19 remains elusive as fewer than 29 percent of the population have received the first booster shot, the most reliable weapon so far in fighting the virus, after adherence to the health protocols.

Another cause for concern is some people are reluctant to follow the protocols, either because they feel they have gained immunity after being vaccinated or they do not believe COVID-19 is real. A survey recently conducted by Kompas research unit found older respondents to be more complacent about COVID-19-prevention measures like wearing masks and social distancing.

The challenges for us in the transition era will not be easier than those we faced when COVID-19 was raging, infecting 6.72 million people and killing over 160,000 of them. The virus is still around us, perhaps until we invent a vaccine that can effectively guard us from it.

Sadly, as the world's health authorities and scientists have admitted, even if we can beat COVID-19 completely, other pandemics may be lurking. Hopefully, COVID-19, as well as the previous SARS pandemic, provide us with valuable lessons to protect ourselves from future health disasters.

All we can do is to stay on alert. As one government official put it, "beware, beware, beware" seems to be the best mantra.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/01/01/beware-beware-beware.htm