Indonesia coronavirus cases dip but experts remain cautious

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Indonesia has recorded fewer than 4000 daily coronavirus cases per day for an entire week, the first time since September 18.

In the past week, daily cases have ranged from 3565 to 2618 – the lowest daily infection rate since August 27 – while the daily death toll has fallen below more than 100 on several occasions.

A man checks his mobile phone as he sits amid physical distancing markers prior to the start of a movie at the recently reopened CGV Cinemas theatre in Jakarta, Indonesia, last month. Credit:AP

But epidemiologists remain cautious about suggesting the country may have begun to curb the spread of the pandemic, pointing out that testing rates in the country are still not reaching the World Health Organisation's minimum daily targets.

Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist at Airlangga University, said a recent five day holiday from October 28 to November 1, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, may have contributed to a small dip in the number of people tested daily to between about 17,000 to 25,000 as not all labs would have been open.

"Testing and contact tracing are the key things in fighting infectious disease. I think we have to wait another week before we can see the real numbers," he said.

"We have to do at least 38,000 to 40,000 tests per day to meet WHO standard. We have achieved it a few times but that's it … our daily testing stands at around 30,000 per day. It is still too low. So, I think we cannot say that the trend of transmission is going down."

Children wear face masks as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus play on swings in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit:AP

However, Windhu said mask-wearing was becoming more widespread, particularly in larger cities, and he welcomed the national government's decision to belatedly recruit more contact tracers for 10 priority provinces.

Padjadjaran University epidemiologist Panji Fortuna Hadisoemarto said several more weeks' data was needed to confirm a downward trend in case numbers in Indonesia.

"I don't think the virus is reducing because the rate of testing is still low and the positivity rate is still above 10 per cent. We can say there is a reduction in transmission when the number of tests is high and the number of daily cases is low."

Former vice-president Jusuf Kalla, now head of the country's Red Cross, recently warned that Indonesia may not recover from the pandemic until 2022.

Indonesia is the most populous country in south-east Asia with 270 million people and has the highest number of infections in the region with 421,731 positive cases and 14,259 deaths.

Its testing per head of population lags far behind neighbours such as Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

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