JAKARTA, Indonesia ( Associated Press) – Indonesia is gearing up for a third wave of COVID-19 infections as the highly transmissible Omicron variant leads to a surge in new cases, health officials and experts said on Saturday.
The country reported 11,588 new confirmed infections and 17 deaths on Saturday in the last 24-hour period. It was the highest daily caseload since August when Indonesia struggled to control a delta-driven wave.
Indonesia had recovered from last year’s spike that was the worst in the region, and by December daily infections had fallen to nearly 200. But cases are on the rise again just weeks after the country reported its first local omicron transmission.
“The rise will be very rapid. …we will see a sharp increase in the near future,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said at a news conference on Friday, adding that the current wave is likely to peak in late February or early March.
He said the government dedicated more beds for COVID-19 patients, intensified tracing and testing and vaccination in all areas. But some health experts doubt the measures will be enough given the lax enforcement.
Jakarta’s deputy governor Ahmed Riza Pateria said the bed occupancy rate in the capital Jakarta rose from 5% in early January to 45% on Saturday. He added that “Omicron is moving very quickly” in the city, where more than 80% of the 10 million residents have been vaccinated.
Pandu Riono, an Indonesian epidemiologist and academic adviser to the government, said Indonesians still suffered from the delta variant, when many died in isolation at home or waiting to receive emergency care as hospitals were flooded.
During last year’s boom, hospitals erected plastic tents as temporary intensive care units, and patients had to wait several days before being admitted. Oxygen tanks were rolled out on the sidewalk for those lucky, while others were told they’d have to find their own supplies.
Riono said the third wave would be unlikely to push Indonesia’s health care system to the brink because Omicron typically produces less severe symptoms than Delta.
President Joko Widodo on Friday urged asymptomatic patients to self-isolate at home for five days and use telemedicine services, through which they can get free access to doctors, medicines and vitamins, or community health centres. can visit.
“This is important so that our health care facilities can focus on treating patients with more severe symptoms or patients with other diseases that require intensive care,” Widodo said.
Dickie Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, said a third wave is inevitable as long as a large part of Indonesia’s population remains vulnerable against COVID-19. As of Friday, only 61% of Indonesia’s 208 million people eligible for shots were fully vaccinated.
Overall, Indonesia has reported more than 4.3 million infections and 144,268 deaths from COVID-19.
Associated Press writer Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.