The ongoing trial of a vaccine developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech and state-owned pharmaceutical company PT Bio Farma on more than 1,600 volunteers has been good news for the country amid its battle against the pandemic.
Other than that, however, things have been slowly getting worse, with little impact seen in the efforts to prevent the contagion from escalating.
Jakarta has once again become the major epicenter of the outbreak, with more than 26,000 infections. Reopening the economy and massive testing may have contributed to the high number of cases. The World Health Organization said the capital remained the only province in the country that met its standard of a minimum testing rate of 1 test per 1,000 inhabitants per week. In fact, Jakarta’s testing rate is four times the WHO standard.
While vigorous testing is a good sign of improving efforts, it also raises alarm in the capital city’s satellites such as Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi — also known as Greater Jakarta, that, with intercity mobility increasing after the reopening, the risk of infection may also be high. Jakarta is home to 11 million people, but during the day the figure reaches 14.5 million as a result of people commuting to the capital city.
The high mobility is particularly dangerous since other cities and regencies around Jakarta have not tested as much as Jakarta. In West Java, which includes Bogor, Depok and Bekasi, the provincial administration has only carried out 180,731 PCR tests out of a population of 50 million.
There should also be a rapid escalation of testing in Greater Jakarta and other regions located near virus hot spots. While the capacity of government and local administrations is limited, it should consider cooperating with private labs that are quite common in the cities.
A partnership to hold more widespread PCR tests would be better at directing the private labs and healthcare providers that currently offer the less effective rapid tests. This is also where the coronavirus relief fund should be disbursed and accelerated. The government can offer to purchase services at the labs to help intensify testing in many regions.
While pushing for vaccine availability is one great step in overcoming the pandemic, what is more critical is to conduct massive testing and isolate cases to prevent wider transmission. What is also important is that the government and local administrations should not hesitate to return to large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) should the infection rate increase dramatically.
Basic commitment to health protocols is what is still lacking in the government. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he preferred people to wear masks, wash hands and keep distance than to return to the PSBB, also known as a partial lockdown. In fact, testing, contact tracing and isolating cases are all part of the health protocol that a region should comply with to stop the virus transmission.
With signs of economic recession blinking, the President may be more and more compromising with the health protocols. But for sure, the virus knows no compromise or hesitation.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.