JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post / Asia News Network): The government plans to make polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing mandatory for travelers in all modes of transport, officials say, in a bid to prevent further wave of Covid-19 infections amid increased public mobility ahead of the holiday season.
Currently, negative PCR test results are only required for passengers traveling by air to Java and Bali, as well as other areas at high risk of Covid-19 transmission.
Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who is overseeing the pandemic response for the two islands, said on Monday, October 25 that nearly 20 million people will travel to these areas during the New Year’s holidays. , and that the government did not want to “repeat the mistakes of the past”.
“Despite the mandatory PCR tests for passengers on flights during the year-end holidays last year, infections have further increased thereafter due to increased mobility,” Luhut said in his weekly update. on restrictions on public activities.
He said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had called on authorities to lower the ceiling price for PCR tests to make them more affordable to the general public.
“President Jokowi wants to lower the price cap to Rp 300,000. It will also allow passengers to take the test three days before their trip instead of two days, as required by current regulations,” said Luhut.
Many people have already criticized the government for making PCR testing mandatory for airline passengers instead of allowing them to opt for rapid antigen tests, which are more affordable but also less accurate than PCR tests.
Critics viewed the regulations as discriminatory due to the high price of PCR tests available and because laboratories in remote areas still lacked the infrastructure to process the results in a timely manner.
Currently, the government has capped the cost of PCR testing at Rp 495,000 (US $ 34.87) for Java and Bali, and Rp 525,000 in other areas. Rapid antigen testing, on the other hand, is capped at Rp99,000 in Java and Bali and Rp109,000 in other regions.
Luhut said mandatory PCR testing regulations for air passengers will be issued to “balance” the recent easing of travel restrictions, with domestic airlines now allowed to operate near full capacity.
He stressed the importance of a cautious approach to relaxing Covid-19 restrictions as well as tighter enforcement of protocols to contain further peaks in viral transmission.
“We must learn the lessons of other countries which are currently experiencing an upsurge in infections despite their excellent immunization coverage. It happened because they relaxed their brakes too quickly, ”said Luhut.
Preparing for another wave The government is on high alert before the end of the year, as the country’s previous spikes in infection have typically occurred after a long vacation period when people travel and reunite with their families. relatives.
Several weeks after the Christmas and New Years holidays last year, when some 10 million people traveled across the country, Covid-19 cases rose 122% nationwide, marking the peak of the first wave of infections in Indonesia.
The country experienced its worst spate of infections in July this year, six weeks after millions of people took part in the annual mudik (exodus) to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Idul Fitri despite a travel ban in effect.
The incidence of high mobility has intensified the spread of the most contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus across the country, with Covid-19 cases reaching 374%.
The pandemic situation has improved significantly since the devastating second wave of July passed, with recent cases dropping about 98% from the peak on July 15.
Indonesia registered 460 new cases on Monday, the lowest since May of last year. The death toll also fell to its lowest level in more than a year.
Despite the improvements, Luhut said 105 of the country’s 514 regencies and cities had started to see a slight increase in the number of new cases in the past two weeks.
The trend has manifested itself in parallel with the increase in public mobility in a number of regions.
In Bali, for example, which recently reopened its borders to international travelers, public mobility has returned to about the same level seen during the Christmas holidays of last year and is expected to increase further as foreign tourists begin to move in. to recover.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said it was crucial to prevent another wave of infections after the year-end break as Indonesia would host a number of major international events the year next, including high-level meetings under the Indonesian chairmanship of the Group of Twenty (G20). to be held in Bali.
In addition to making PCR testing mandatory for travelers, Budi said, the government would continue to improve tracing and testing efforts and speed up vaccine deployment to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“We managed to administer 2.3 million shots per day. We aim to deploy 270 to 300 million shots by December. We expect 80% of the target population to have received their first dose and 59% to be fully vaccinated by then, ”he said at the briefing.
As of Tuesday, around 55% of the 208 million people targeted by the country had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and around 33% had been fully vaccinated, representing a combined total of 183.4 million vaccines .