Dio Suhenda, Jakarta – A recent uptick in the country's daily COVID-19 caseload and the discovery of more people infected with the new Arcturus strain are no cause for concern just yet, the Health Ministry has said, but it also urged the public to take health precautions ahead of the Idul Fitri holiday.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, ministerial spokesman Mohammad Syahril said authorities had found five new cases linked to Arcturus (XBB.1.16), a subvariant of Omicron. This brought the nationwide tally to seven following the two cases that were announced last week, but were detected in late March.
Syahril said one of the first two Arcturus cases had traveled to India, while the other was infected in Indonesia. Both cases were detected in Jakarta and had since tested negative.
Meanwhile, of the five new cases announced on Monday, three are Jakarta residents and the other two are from Surabaya, East Java. "They are all showing only mild symptoms," Syahril added.
The five new Arcturus cases come amid a slight uptick in the daily caseload.
Indonesia has been reporting more than 900 new cases a day since April 11 and surpassed 1,000 cases on Friday. The last time the country reported more than 1,000 cases was on Dec. 22, some four months ago.
"The good news is that although there has been a rise in cases, we can see that the figure for [daily COVID-19] deaths is still far below the World Health Organization's standards [for concern], which is one death per 100,000 people," Syahril said.
He also noted that the bed occupancy rate in the country's hospitals was still far below the WHO's standards of five hospitalizations for every 100,000 people.
"This means that although there has been a slight increase, our [COVID-19] parameters are still under control," he said.
While noting that over two dozen countries including India and neighboring Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia were experiencing spikes in cases following a number of Arcturus infections, Syahril said the ministry was confident Indonesia would not see a dramatic increase in cases following the collective Idul Fitri holiday starting this weekend, unlike in previous years.
"Based on our projections, 2023 will be different from previous [years], since we have mad a lot of effort" in COVID-19 handling and mitigation, he said. "So even if there is an increase in cases, we hope that other parameters, such as the fatality and bed occupancy rates, will remain under control."
Syahril said that to this end, the ministry had received more than 24,000 doses of new COVID-19 medications and would set up vaccination points at busy transportation hubs, including airports and bus terminals, for the duration of the extended Idul Fitri holiday.
Even as the government downplayed the threat of the Arcturus subvariant, Syahril still urged those looking to travel for mudik (exodus) to take health precautions, including wearing masks during their trips and getting tested for the virus if they showed symptoms.
He also said that mudik travelers as well as their family members in their hometowns should all have completed their primary vaccinations and gotten booster doses.
"As long as the pandemic has not been officially declared as ended, getting vaccinated is still an important factor to provide immunity [against COVID-19]," he underlined.
No health restrictions have been imposed for Idul Fitri this year, while the government expects some 123 million Indonesians to make their journeys back to their hometowns.
The Transportation Ministry reported on Sunday that over 586,000 mudik travelers had departed Greater Jakarta on Saturday using public transportation, while other travelers had used 147,000 private cars.