The Jakarta Post
Indonesia’s two worst-hit provinces, Jakarta and West Java, have conducted mass rapid testing over the past week in an intensified effort to get a grasp on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tests, which use blood serum, were conducted at hospitals, public health centers and drive-through clinics to minimize contact between people.
In the capital, 121 additional cases of COVID-19 were discovered after testing more than 10,000 people. On Sunday, West Java found 30 more cases after testing 20,000. Most of the tests were conducted in the province’s peripheral areas, such as Bogor and Depok, which are close to Jakarta.
The first wave of rapid testing — which is targeting about 100,000 people who are under surveillance, have had close contact with confirmed cases or are in high-risk professions — was not enough. The country had confirmed more than 1,000 cases and more than 100 deaths as of Sunday.
Without strong measures to complement it, rapid testing offers only a glimpse of the severity of the coronavirus crisis. And it is an unreliable one at that; it can provide false negatives if the disease is in the window period or the time between the initial infection and when it can be reliably identified. Therefore, people who tested negative in the rapid test would be required to take a second test after 10 days.
Local administrations may have chosen to handle the tests with care as field medical workers are not well protected. But with only a few thousands tests, little can be expected from the effort, especially when people have to wait for days for results.
The government must take bolder measures to curb the disease. If those efforts include mass testing, the number of tests must be scaled up, and results must be delivered as soon as possible.
No country in the world was well prepared for the pandemic, not even South Korea. But when the spread of the disease became apparent, South Korea quickly directed medical companies to produce testing kits. They also produced swab-sample kits, which can more accurately detect the disease. This was accompanied by physical distancing and the quarantine of potential infection clusters.
If Indonesia wants to follow South Korea’s strategy to flatten the infection curve, it may have to import more testing kits that meet World Health Organization standards. After three months of dallying, it is likely that the disease has spread far beyond medical workers, those who have returned from foreign travel and those who have had close contact with confirmed cases.
If we have the knowledge and capacity to produce much-needed medical supplies at home, the government should require companies and laboratories to do everything possible to meet the needs of this public health emergency.
The government cannot remain half-hearted in its pandemic response. Despite our very real limitations of circumstance, leaders must face this struggle with absolutely every resource at their disposal.
To ensure our safety, we must marshal for battle, united against humanity’s common enemy: COVID-19.