February 23, 2023
JAKARTA – With the government looking to move on from COVID-19 as cases continue to decline despite the dropping of pandemic curbs, Indonesia has begun looking for allies to lobby the World Health Organization into declaring the pandemic over.
“We are now consulting with other countries that are also looking to declare [COVID-19 as] endemic this year. [These countries] happen to be Japan and the United States,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Tuesday, as quoted by Kompas.com.
Since the government lifted its public activity restrictions (PPKM) at the tail-end of last year, the COVID-19 indicators in the country have continued to show signs of improvement. The Health Ministry told a press briefing on Monday that daily new cases fell almost 15 percent on Sunday compared with the previous week.
Other pandemic indicators, including the positivity rate, daily deaths and hospitalizations, have also declined, indicating that virus transmission and patients with severe cases remain relatively low.
The country’s daily caseload means that Indonesia averaged 0.43 new cases per million people as of Monday, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data. This puts Indonesia below the US’ 1.78 cases per million people, and far below Japan’s 56.6 cases per million people.
Similarly, Indonesia recorded less than 0.01 deaths per million, compared with the US’ 0.2 and Japan’s 0.4.
Despite these encouraging indicators, the authority to lift the global pandemic status of coronavirus, officially known as the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), lies solely with the WHO.
To this end, Budi said that he would meet with WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to follow up a meeting between the ministry’s team and WHO representatives.
“[Our people] have already talked with the WHO [on declaring endemicity] once. Soon, Tedros and I will also [meet] in person,” Budi said.
Previously, during a national coordination meeting on handling COVID-19 in late January, Budi jokingly said that he wanted to lobby Tedros to declare an end to the pandemic by Aug. 17 this year. “I was planning to persuade [Tedros] to revert [the pandemic status] on Aug.17, since that falls right on Indonesia’s Independence Day. It may not work out that way, but there’s no harm [in trying],” he said at the time.
Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman of Griffith University, Australia, said that it was only a matter of months before the WHO declared the PHEIC status to be over, noting that most countries had shown encouraging signs that the pandemic was gradually getting under control.
“Within the next three months, I can see the [WHO] revoking the PHEIC status, far before [Indonesia’s] target of August, as long as things keep on going the way they are,” Dicky told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
While Indonesia can only wait on the WHO’s decision to revoke the PHEIC status, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo can first revoke the country’s own health emergency status, which is still in effect, despite the lifting of all restrictions last year.
“In regards to [the pandemic’s] health emergency status in Indonesia, that must be revoked first [before the WHO declares an end to the pandemic]. What has been removed is only the PPKM system, but we are actually still in a health emergency status,” Health Ministry spokesman Mohammad Syahril said on Monday.
By revoking the country’s health emergency status, the government would shift most of its responsibility of paying for health care related to COVID-19, including hospitalization and vaccines, back to the public.
The Health Ministry recently said that the new XBB.1.5 subvariant, widely and informally dubbed as Kraken, had not caused an uptick in COVID-19 cases nationwide after the country reported its first cases late last month.