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COVID is under control in Indonesia, but is a new wave on the way?


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Although daily cases and deaths have declined dramatically in Jakarta and Java, experts fear the virus has spread throughout the archipelago due to a lack of testing and contact tracing.

 

Official data from Indonesia indicates that a Delta-driven second wave of COVID-19, which saw the Southeast Asian nation become the pandemic's global epicentre in July and August, has passed.

 

However, some of the country's leading epidemiologists believe that due to a lack of testing and tracking capability, inaccurate death toll estimates, and willful data falsification, there is still no clear picture of the pandemic in Indonesia, and that a third wave could be on the way.

 

In July, at the height of Indonesia's second wave, one out of every three people tested for COVID-19 in the country had a positive result.


According to the National Board for Disaster Management, the seven-day average positive rate has already plummeted to 3.64 percent and is steadily declining.
It's the lowest positivity percentage the country has reported since the outbreak began, and it's considerably below the 5-percent threshold used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to indicate countries in control of the virus.

 

On Wednesday, the number of new cases in Indonesia was at 3,948, down from a high of 56,757 on July 15 when hospitals on the most densely populated island of Java were bursting at the seams.
Meanwhile, the official daily death toll fell to 267 on the same day, down from over 2,000 in July.


“The second wave in Indonesia appears to be over,” said Gusti Ngurah Mahardika of Udayana University, the most senior virologist in Bali, where daily confirmed case counts had dropped from over 1,500 last month to 182 on Wednesday.

 

Testing and tracing problems


Mahardika, who told Al Jazeera last year that there was "no data openness" in Indonesia, now claims that "the data is much better than even a month or two ago."
He adds, however, that it is still unreliable because the average number of close contacts tracked following a positive test result is "less than five, and sometimes nil."
When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the WHO recommends tracing and testing a minimum of 15 close contacts, with a maximum of 30.

 

“If all specimens were examined using PCR, more positive results would be revealed,” Mahardika said, criticising the government's continued use of “substandard” quick antigen testing in place of “gold-standard” pfanonolymerase chain reaction or PCR tests.


Kawal Covid-19, a Jakarta-based independent data effort, agrees.
Only 1% of the 98,900 persons tested with quick antigen tests on Monday had a positive result, according to the data.
7.6% of the 21,700 persons who were tested with PCR testing on the same day were positive.

 

“Antigen tests are less accurate than PCR testing because they have a limited window for detecting positive cases,” said Septian Hartono, a medical scientist and Kawal Covid-19 data coordinator.
“If we use PCR for all of the testing, we'll get a lot more cases.”
However, the official data still shows a declining trend.”


The situation in Indonesia, according to Hartono, is identical to that in India, where “a very sharp increase and a very sharp decline occurred because the Delta variant ran out of fuel.”

 

“The Delta reproduction rate was originally six to eight, but due to emergency limits, it was cut.
Another factor that lowered it was the large number of persons who were sick, because once infected, a person has a considerably lower probability of becoming infected again.
He claims that the reproduction rate has reduced to three or four, identical to the Alpha variety.

 

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