It feels like we've flown back in time and landed at the start of the pandemic; a time of mixed messages and constant backtracking on COVID-19 regulations.
Today, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said that the government is reinstating rapid antigen tests as an accepted COVID-19 screening tool for air travel within Java and Bali.
"Antigen test is enough," Muhadjir said during a virtual press conference on the evaluation of the Enforcement of Restrictions on Public Activities (PPKM) protocol today.
"This is in accordance with a recommendation by the Home Affairs Minister (Tito Karnavian)."
It was only on Oct. 19 that the government made negative PCR test results mandatory to board all domestic flights in order to minimize false negatives and prevent another COVID-19 surge leading up to the year-end holiday. Amid outcry over the financial hurdle this posed to regular Indonesians, the government last week reduced the price ceiling of a PCR test from IDR495K (US$35) to IDR275K (US$19).
Stringent testing policies have also begun to be rolled out for other modes of transportation, amid the government's plan for an even more expansive utilization of PCR tests, considering it's the gold standard COVID-19 diagnostic tool.
The government backtracking to allow rapid antigen tests on domestic flights curiously goes against their official stance in the past couple of weeks. Muhadjir, who made a rare appearance giving the press conference in the place of regular PPKM updates announcer Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, did not give a reason for the government's change of plans.
The timing of the policy, whether directly related or otherwise, coincided with an expose by local news magazine Tempo, who reported that Luhut may have business ties with firms that manage PCR test labs.
At any rate, the Transportation Ministry said that the new policy will come into effect after the Home Affairs Ministry and COVID-19 Task Force issue a new circular on domestic travel.