Linda Yulisman, Jakarta – Indonesia's government is under mounting pressure to close schools temporarily as the number of Covid-19 infections rises significantly in the country, driven primarily by the highly transmissible but less severe Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Daily new cases rose from 2,927 on Jan 24 to 17,895 on Wednesday (Feb 2), the highest tally in more than five months.
Schools in some parts of the archipelago have already suspended face-to-face learning because students are infected.
In Jakarta, 90 schools have been shut after 135 students and teachers contracted the disease.
Separately, in the capital's satellite city of Depok in West Java, 18 schools have stopped in-person learning after 197 cases were confirmed among students.
In Bekasi, which is also in West Java, schools were ordered to return to online learning on Tuesday for two weeks while several schools in Batam, Riau Islands, and in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, were closed.
The national coordinator of the Society for Education and Teachers, Mr Satriwan Salim, has called for all schools to react in the event of a spike in Covid-19 cases.
"To avert a surge in cases, schools in the areas where the Omicron-induced cases are rising, should halt face-to-face learning," he told The Straits Times.
But, noting the inequality of Internet access and infrastructure among regions across the sprawling archipelago, he added: "Or at least, they return to limited face-to-face learning: half of their students study at school and the rest at home."
Mr Satriwan also said that his organisation had found numerous breaches of health protocols during face-to-face learning in schools, such as overcrowded classrooms and students congregating after school hours, attributing such lapses to the lack of supervision by the authorities.
He also noted that the vaccination rate for children aged between six and 11 remained low.
Around 18.92 million young people aged between 12 and 17, or 70.84 per cent of those targeted in this age group, have received two doses or are fully vaccinated, according to figures from the Health Ministry.
But only 3.34 million of those aged between six and 11, or 12.64 per cent, have been fully vaccinated.
An epidemiologist from Griffith University, Mr Dicky Budiman, has urged all schools, especially on the most-populated islands of Java and Bali, to adopt virtual classrooms soon for at least one month ahead of what is expected to be the peak of the third wave of Covid-19 in Indonesia.
"It's true that we must prioritise education, but the child's right to live and his or her health is of utmost importance," he told ST.
"We should not underestimate Covid-19. Omicron will have a serious impact on children... especially to those who have not yet had immunity."
Last month, five medical associations, including the Indonesian Paediatric Society, asked the government to evaluate in-person learning among students aged below 11, saying there was a lack of compliance to health protocols and incomplete vaccination coverage among them as well as the unavailability of vaccines for minors.
"Reports from a few countries show that the proportion of children under treatment caused by the Omicron variant are greater than other variants," pulmonologist Agus Dwi Susanto, who leads the Indonesian Society of Respirology, said in a statement on Jan 23.