The widely predicted third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is now raging, driven mainly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus, which has been spreading like wildfire in the world.
The rise of the variant, which was only identified late last year, was inevitable.
The question now is how the crisis should be tackled. The speed at which Omicron spreads once it takes hold in a community is indeed worrying. On January 3, Indonesia recorded 265 new Covid-19 cases and five deaths.
A month later, the daily figure soared to more than 32,000 cases and 42 deaths. It is expected that the numbers will grow until the wave peaks in March.
Indonesia’s government has expressed confidence that it will be able to weather Omicron’s assault, citing the nation’s improved vaccination rate and studies that have found that Omicron tends to result in milder symptoms than its predecessor, Delta, which sickened and killed thousands in the second wave of the pandemic in July of last year.
Even after the rapid upsurge of the virus in recent days, the government has declined to increase the level of public activity restrictions (PPKM) in Jakarta, the epicentre of the current surge, now set at level 2.
It has argued that with Omicron, the surge in cases will not translate into overwhelming hospitalisation rates as during Alpha or Delta. It has said it will use hospitalisation numbers exclusively to assess whether to raise the PPKM level.
Indonesians are better prepared than during the first and second waves of the pandemic, with more than 62 per cent of the nation’s population and more than 93 per cent of capital city’s population fully vaccinated.
The scientific community also agrees that Omicron is less virulent than many of the previous variants.
But the government needs to keep in mind that Omicron remains a serious threat to the country’s healthcare system and that risks should not be taken.
Epidemiologists have asked the government to impose new mobility curbs to slow down the rate of infection. It is folly to treat everything as business as usual when a storm of cases is coming.
The goal would be to flatten the curve and prevent the virus from overburdening the healthcare system, which would mean more deaths.
Indonesia’s government cannot afford to make another blunder that exacerbates the health crisis.
It is now the third year of the pandemic, and it would be difficult for the country’s economy to cope with another hard lockdown or if the current wave of cases spirals into a full-blown health crisis.
Ideally, the Omicron wave will be short-lived, as it was in other countries.
This would mean that the new curbs would not have to last long either. It is said that Omicron will be like a “flash flood”.
JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK