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Jakarta Post

Testing disparity looms over Greater Jakarta’s efforts to break chain of transmission

  • Sausan Atika

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, August 12, 2020   /   10:46 am
Testing disparity looms over Greater Jakarta’s efforts to break chain of transmission To support Indonesia’s efforts to increase the quantity and quality of COVID-19 testing, New Zealand has contributed an additional NZ$500,000 (Rp 4.5 billion) to the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology. (Courtesy of New Zealand embassy/-)

Health authorities are demanding that Jakarta’s satellite cities follow the capital’s lead in increasing the testing capacity, as the capital deals with more and more COVID-19 infections amid relaxed restrictions and rising mobility.

The number of new positive cases in Jakarta continued to exceed that of other provinces over the last few days with 462 new infections, 184 recoveries and 12 new deaths as of Tuesday.

In total, the capital has seen 26,624 confirmed infections, putting it ahead of second-placed East Java, which has logged 25,917 cases.

Read also: Highest daily spike sees Jakarta logging 658 new COVID-19 cases

Authorities claim the high figures are due to the massive scale of testing and aggressive contact tracing the city has undertaken since it began gradually reopening the economy.

Jakarta, a special administrative region, remains the only province to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation for the minimum testing rate of 1 test per 1,000 inhabitants per week, according to the latest WHO situation report.

Despite meeting the WHO benchmark, Jakarta Health Agency head Widyastuti said the city administration’s efforts to curb the disease would not succeed unless its satellite cities put up a similar effort, given the high mobility of people within Greater Jakarta.

“One obstacle we face is how to build synergy [with the satellite cities], because we cannot work alone. There is still a large [testing] gap between Jakarta and the other cities,” Widyastuti said in a recent virtual discussion.

“As people's mobility remains high, [the outbreak] won’t end without support from the satellite cities.”

Greater Jakarta includes the municipalities of South Tangerang and Tangerang as well as Tangerang regency in Banten, the Bogor municipality and the Bogor regency, Depok, as well as the Bekasi municipality and Bekasi regency (Bodebek) in West Java. It covers an area inhabited by nearly 35 million people, many of whom, under normal circumstances, commute for work or study to the capital.

Experts have urged from the outset that the government look to improving the country’s testing capacity, in the hope of immediately treating those infected to curb COVID-19 transmission.

However, the significant testing gap between regions across the country is a major stumbling block, as half of the laboratories that have the wherewithal to run polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for diagnostic purposes are located on the island of Java.

Even within the island, disparity among provinces is very evident.

Jakarta, home to 10.5 million people, has tested 464,122 people as of Monday. Around 47,018 people were tested in the city in the past week alone, which is four times the minimum testing rate recommended by the WHO.

Meanwhile, the cumulative number of PCR tests undertaken in Jakarta’s satellite cities, which cover an area occupied by 24 million residents, amounts to less than 1 percent of its population so far, according to The Jakarta Post’s calculations.

"As the economy reopens and the phenomenon of asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers emerges, people from satellite cities going to or coming from Jakarta [carry] a big potential risk of infection," the South Tangerang Health Agency’s acting head, Deden Deni, said on Monday.

Read also: Indonesia to increase monthly production of test kits while vaccine under trial

But the testing capacity extending from Jakarta’s urban sprawl is still largely inadequate, with Deden admitting that his city’s administration had yet to meet the WHO’s testing benchmark.

South Tangerang has carried out just 12,000 PCR tests as of Monday.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that satellite city administrations rely on laboratories outside their administrative areas, mainly in Jakarta.

When the labs reduced their quotas for testing samples, the administrations had no other option, Deden said.

In an attempt to increase the number of PCR tests to at least 1 percent of its population, the South Tangerang administration has requested approval from the Health Ministry to run its own laboratory with an examination capacity of 200 specimens a day, he said.

Tangerang regency health agency head Desriana also said her regency had only tested around 12,000 of the 3.5 million population due to the limited testing quota of the three labs it had delivered its samples to.

The regency runs one other laboratory for this purpose, also with severe capacity constraints.

Unlike its two neighboring cities, Tangerang municipality has managed to perform 17,000 PCR tests for its 1.7 million residents. It was recently able to test up to 1,800 people per week, Tangerang Health Agency head Liza Puspadewi said on Tuesday.

“This is because we decided to allocate more funds from our city budget and learn from the experiences of other places, such as West Sumatra, on how to examine samples more effectively,” Liza said.

“However, we are certainly not yet satisfied and will continue to increase [the number of PCR tests].”

Read also: Indonesia's latest official COVID-19 figures

In West Java, home to 50 million people, the provincial government has only carried out a total of 180,731 PCR tests so far.

West Java Health Agency head Berli Hamdani acknowledged on Monday that the province, including the Bodebek agglomeration that makes up part of Greater Jakarta, had yet to meet the WHO recommendation despite the fact that 10 of its 25 labs were located in said urban areas.

However, he also noted that Jakarta has a much lower population and its labs are more accessible for diagnostic purposes.

To increase its testing capacity, the province is considering linking up with private laboratories, especially those located in the Bodebek area and its urban surroundings, Berli said.