JAKARTA: Indonesia is bracing for COVID-19 cases to peak by the end of February, its health minister said on Thursday, as the country faces a third wave of infections driven by the omicron variant.
Home to 270 million people, Indonesia recorded its first case of the highly transmissible variant in December. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast the number of daily cases there to surpass 387,000 by April.
“If we started at the end of December, maybe the peak will occur at the end of February or early March,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told reporters.
He added that the government would be changing its approach to focus on the rate of hospitalization rather than the number of reported cases as omicron was less severe than the delta variant that swept the country last year and overwhelmed its medical facilities.
“Omicron will increase fast and high, there is no need to be surprised, no need to panic,” Budi said, adding that Indonesians were “adequately protected.”
While fewer than half the population are fully vaccinated, a government-commissioned survey showed in early January that 86 percent of Indonesians had acquired COVID-19 antibodies.
The country reported 8,077 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, a near tenfold increase in just two weeks.
However, Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, said the official numbers did not give an accurate picture of the infection rate, given Indonesia’s limited testing and tracing capabilities.
“For sure, the current numbers, the government figures, still do not reflect even half of the real cases,” he told Arab News.
He said he expected the hospitalization rate to increase in the coming weeks, and as face-to-face learning had resumed at schools, the government should consider closing them again until at least March, as “it’s too dangerous for kids.”
“Otherwise, we will see many cases among children, not only in hospitalization but also mortality.”