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Jakarta braces for impending Omicron ‘battle’

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A woman receives a booster dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Jakarta on January 12. AFP

Jakarta braces for impending Omicron ‘battle’

Jakartans are being called upon to be more vigilant and consider once again the possibility of working from home, after authorities flagged the city as the “first battleground” in the fight against the Omicron variant, amid worrying predictions of a third infection wave in the coming weeks.

The capital, which is at the centre of the Greater Jakarta megalopolis, is home to some 12 million people and hosts millions more commuters from a handful of satellite cities around it, making it a nightmare for city administrators looking to curb the spread of a highly contagious variant.

It is also the main gateway for international arrivals to the country, and has had its fair share of experiences being the epicentre of outbreaks earlier on in the pandemic.

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on January 16 that Jakarta would become the first region in the country to feel the full impact of the Omicron outbreak, as the number of cases of local transmission slowly catches up with the sum of imported cases quarantined at the point of entry.

As a result, the government would pay special attention to Covid-19 mitigation in the capital, considering the share of new Covid-19 cases being recorded there.

“Currently 90 per cent of all local Covid-19 infections have occurred in Jakarta. This is in contrast to last week, when imported cases dominated transmission in the capital,” Budi said in a press conference on January 16.

The number of active Covid-19 cases in Jakarta has more than doubled in the past week, from 1,874 cases on January 9 to 3,816 on January 16 – a day after it recorded the highest rise in the daily infection caseload since August.

The city has reported 720 cases of the Omicron variant, a fifth of which have occurred locally.

Due to the nation’s inadequate testing and tracing, however, experts believe the cases could be significantly more widespread than shown by the official data.

Hospitalisations, while generally lower among Omicron infections due to its perceived milder symptoms, have also jumped from 4 to 19 per cent in Jakarta in just two weeks.

In spite of this, Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria said the city was “prepared for battle against the new Omicron variant” and would continue to work together with the central government to mitigate the outbreak.

Riza was well aware that as the nation’s capital and the site of transit for foreign citizens entering the country, travellers returning from overseas were at a greater risk of being exposed to the Omicron variant.

In June of last year, a devastating second wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant pushed the capital’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse, with more than 90 per cent of available Covid-19 hospital beds occupied.

Makeshift tents set up outside crowded facilities, hospital corridors overflowing with the sick lying on gurneys and infected patients being turned away from places unable to cope with the transmission surge were common sightings.

This time, the city is keen to learn from past mistakes. Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who oversees Covid-19 mitigation in Java and Bali, said on January 16 that the impending third wave of infections looked likely to peak sometime between the end of February and early March, and that the central government had prepared special measures for Jakarta.

As of January 17, more than 100 per cent of Jakarta’s 8 million targeted population are fully vaccinated with two doses.

Luhut reiterated the importance of forgoing overseas travel to curb the spread of Omicron, and said that strict mobility curbs would be employed “only as a last resort”.



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