The governors of Jakarta and Riau, Anies Baswedan and Syamsuar, respectively, have become the latest additions to the long list of government officials who have tested positive for COVID-19, at a time when cases and hospitalizations continue to soar in the country.
Anies' polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result came back positive in the early hours of Tuesday morning, he said through an Instagram video. He said he had taken the test on Monday, three days after his deputy Ahmad Riza Patria had taken the test on Friday that eventually came back positive, as announced by the Jakarta administration on Sunday.
Anies said he had been in close contact with Riza for some meetings several days prior and he consequently took an antigen test on Sunday, which came back negative. But antigen tests are known to be less accurate than PCR tests, though they produce results faster -- hence further confirmation using PCR is necessary.
"The Jakarta Health Agency's [contact] tracing team will also be recording, taking notes and reaching out to all [my] close contacts and all related procedures will go ahead," Anies said.
He called on all his close contacts in the past few days to self-quarantine and go to community health centers (Puskesmas) to take the PCR test. The governor’s office at the City Hall will be closed, but the City Hall's main building will continue running, he said.
Anies said he was not experiencing any symptoms and was isolating alone at the governor's official residence as he would continue working virtually.
Jakarta previously lost one of its senior officials to the coronavirus infection when then-secretary Saefullah died in September from irreversible septic shock and acute respiratory syndrome due to COVID-19.
The city went back to the transitional phase from large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) not long after Anies reimposed full PSBB in September, albeit in a less strict form than the restrictions imposed earlier in the outbreak.
The city's testing performance has also surpassed the benchmark set by the World Health Organization, amounting to over 10,000 new people being tested daily, but its positivity rate remains high, even reaching over 20 percent on some days -- higher than the ideal rate of below 5 percent. The past two weeks have seen Jakarta’s new cases consistently topping 1,000 daily, except on Nov. 29 when tests performed declined to below 10,000.
Following the long weekend enjoyed in late October, the country has seen a spike in cases and deaths, setting several new daily records as several regions also saw more patients flocking to hospitals.
"There are two provinces which need special attention because of the spike [recently], in the past two to three days there have been very drastic increases [in new cases] in Central Java and Jakarta," President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said on Monday.
Indonesia reported 5,092 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections nationwide to 543,975.
Anies himself drew flak when he met up with firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab in mid-November. Rizieq drew thousands of people in mass gatherings at that time whether or not he has been infected by the coronavirus has become a matter for conjecture.
Beyond Jakarta administration officials, COVID-19 has also claimed the lives of several regional leaders, such as East Java's Situbondo regent, Dadang Wigiarto, and acting Sidoarjo regent Nur Ahmad Syaifuddin. It has also infected at least three Cabinet members: Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo and Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi.
With no sign of transmissions in the province slowing down, Riau Governor Syamsuar's PCR test on Monday came back positive on Tuesday, provincial COVID-19 task force spokesperson Indra Yovi said in a livestreamed press briefing on Tuesday. Syamsuar and his wife, Misnarni, previously took a PCR test on Saturday, shortly after flying from Jakarta to Riau, and only Misnarni's result came back positive.
She had previously attended an event held by Dharma Wanita, an organization for civil servants' wives, which developed into an emerging cluster with 20 confirmed cases, at least five of whom were Riau officials, Riau Health Agency head Mimi Yuliani Nazir said.
Syamsuar, often accompanied by his wife, had attended various ceremonies and events, including ones attended by Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio and Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, in Bali, Jakarta and Riau the week before he tested positive for COVID-19. On Saturday, upon receiving his negative PCR result, he proceeded to attend a plenary session at the Riau Regional Legislative Council.
"There are several suspicions [about transmission sources] because there were many events," he said, calling on participants of the plenary meeting who came into close contact with him and experienced symptoms to report themselves to health authorities.
Epidemiologist Masdalina Pane urged government officials to limit their meeting participants to 10 people, to avoid attracting crowds and to make use of virtual meetings. She argued that contact-tracing efforts, especially down to the sources of transmission, would be difficult given that they tended to meet a lot of people in their jobs.
Tonang Dwi Ardyanto of clinical pathologist association PDS PatKlin suggested that government officials, particularly those at greater risk of infection, routinely test themselves every one or two weeks using PCR and antibody tests, or antigen tests if the former were not easily available. However, negative test results must be confirmed twice to avoid false results.
"The most important thing is for public officials to set examples [in following health protocols], such as correctly wearing masks. These are things that will be followed by the public, and not attracting crowds unless necessary and constrained. This is very crucial,” Tonang said.