May 11, 2023
JAKARTA – As the government casts its sights on declaring an end to Indonesia’s COVID-19 public health emergency, experts are calling on authorities develop a robust plan to manage any lingering threats from the virus.
Following the World Health Organization’s declaration on Friday that COVID-19 was no longer a global health emergency, the Health Ministry, with the assistance of some other ministries, began working on a recommendation for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to follow suit and lift the national emergency in the near future, Health Ministry spokesman Mohamad Syahril said on Tuesday.
He said the ministry’s recommendation would outline a plan to treat COVID-19 as an endemic illness and to manage future pandemics based on guidelines from the WHO.
Some health experts urged the government to proceed with caution, fearing that the public might end up completely disregarding the threat of COVID-19.
Read also: Government still awaiting Health Ministry’s COVID-19 advice
“COVID-19 has made people realize just how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It would be a shame if people stopped doing that just because a status was lifted,” public health expert Tjandra Yoga Aditama said on Wednesday.
“Even though the WHO has declared that COVID-19 is no longer a PHEIC [public health emergency of international concern], the virus is still here. There will still be patients and deaths,” he added. “So programs to control COVID-19 need to exist.”
Tjandra urged the government to follow the WHO’s lead and prepare a 2023-2025 program to stamp out COVID-19. He said the post-pandemic strategies should detail how the country planned to keep up virus countermeasures, public awareness and research.
“COVID-19 is the only disease that is three years young. Other [diseases] are decades or centuries old. That’s why we need to continue research efforts so we can fully understand the disease,” he added.
The Health Ministry said that once the President signed a new decree declaring an end to the national health emergency, people would have to pay for COVID-19 vaccines and treatment on their own or through insurance programs, such as the National Health Insurance (JKN).
The government is also considering lifting testing and vaccination requirements for travel.
Read also: Health Ministry to prepare transition to end COVID emergency
Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman questioned the effectiveness of having individuals and insurers bear the cost of COVID-19 vaccination and treatment.
“A poorly thought out plan would only harm the public. If those infected have to [pay for their treatment] out of their own pockets, it might lead to even more undetected [cases], which, in turn, could lead to more deaths than what we are seeing now,” Dicky said on Thursday.
He suggested that a regency-by-regency approach might be more fitting.
“Lifting the emergency status does not have to be done all in one go, considering the varying levels of readiness [among regencies and cities]. This way, [economic] activity could go back into full swing, while also minimizing the health risks,” he added.