Indonesia saw around 1,000 fresh coronavirus infections in a single day last week, and epidemiologists warn the trend may continue until at least the end of the month as the authorities ramp up testing and contact-tracing.
The world’s fourth most-populous nation reported 1,241 new cases last Wednesday, a record single-day jump, and saw more than 1,000 cases on Friday (1,111) and Saturday (1,014), up from several hundreds daily in the previous weeks.
The government spokesman on Covid-19 management, Dr Achmad Yurianto, has said that more aggressive contact-tracing caused the significant rise in new cases.
The number of total cases rose to 38,277 yesterday, while fatalities increased to 2,134, the highest in South-east Asia.
University of Indonesia epidemiologist Pandu Riono attributed the considerable increase in daily cases to the ineffective ban on the massive exodus to hometowns ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which fell on May 24 this year.
Each year, millions of people in Jakarta and other big cities go back to their hometowns at the end of the Ramadan fasting month, a journey better known as mudik. But this year, the government imposed the ban to curb the spread of the Covid-19. Despite the ban, it is estimated that nearly 1.6 million managed to leave the capital.
“The jump of cases is the impact of mudik. The figure will continue to rise in mid-June to end of June,” Dr Pandu told The Straits Times.
He noted that the relaxation of social restrictions in many parts of the country will also drive the surge of infections in the coming weeks.
Workplaces, places of worship, shopping centres and recreational venues reopened gradually from early June, but they must operate at 50 per cent capacity and ensure people keep 1m away from one another. Earlier, many parts of Indonesia imposed partial lockdowns by closing all these places.
President Joko Widodo has warned of a potential second wave of Covid-19 cases.
“I remind you that our big task has not ended as the conditions are still dynamic,” he told the Covid-19 task force last Wednesday.
“I warn you all, don’t let the second wave come. Don’t let the cases jump,” he added.
However, Dr Panji Hadisoemarto, an epidemiologist at the University of Padjadjaran, is worried that the first wave is not even over.
“I think we’ve not yet seen the peak. At the national level, the cumulative cases keep rising, and new cases keep surging,” he said, noting that the peak should be followed by a constant decline in infections.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has said the city reached its peak of infections in April. But after posting a low number of cases in late May, the city of around 10 million people has reported a rebound in infections recently.
Epidemiologists have urged the authorities to step up testing and contact-tracing as activities in offices and other venues resume gradually in Jakarta and other cities.
According to the Indonesian government, the total number of tests nationwide to date is 495,527, out of a population of about 270 million.
Dr Panji has noted that when more testing leads to the discovery of new cases, it could reflect the ongoing widespread infections on the ground. He also said enhancing the testing capacity in other regions outside Jakarta will be key to prevention efforts and lowering the risks of infections, particularly in areas with poor health facilities.
All regions must have equal access to testing, he said.
The World Health Organisation has set one test per 1,000 population a week as a laboratory testing benchmark, and Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria said the capital city has been meeting the standard.
However, on the national level, Indonesia’s testing capacity has yet to be able to achieve the standard.