May 9, 2023
JAKARTA – The Health Ministry is preparing the transitional steps for Indonesia to end the COVID-19 health emergency following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decree that it was lifting the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) status for the disease on Friday.
“We express our gratitude to all medical and health workers that have struggled together to control the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia. And now, together, we are heading toward ending the emergency status [of COVID-19],” Health Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Syahril said in a statement on Saturday.
On Friday, the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the lifting of the PHEIC status for COVID-19, citing declining cases and mortality from the disease for more than a year, while population immunity had also increased from vaccination and infection.
“Mortality decreasing and pressure on the health system easing. […] It is therefore with great hope that I declare it over as a global health emergency,” Tedros said in a press briefing.
Tedros stressed that COVID-19 remained a serious threat to global public health, and countries should not use the latest news to let down their guard and dismantle the public health systems they had built to contain diseases like COVID-19.
Syahril said that the ministry had consulted with the WHO director-general and team in Geneva and Jakarta on how Indonesia should prepare for a pandemic-transition period prior to the WHO announcement of the removal of the PHEIC status for COVID-19.
He added that the WHO had lauded Indonesia’s preparations for the transition of COVID-19 from pandemic to endemic.
However, the government remains on alert, Syahril said, as the WHO also underlined that a transition period to handle COVID-19 in the long term was needed.
He said the government would continue to implement public health surveillance, ensuring health facilities and medicine supplies as well as other public health policies were in place to ensure national health resilience and readiness against the possibilities of a new pandemic in the future.
Syahril also called on the public to remain careful and implement health protocols, while vaccination drives would still continue, especially to protect high-risk segments of society.
“The COVID-19 virus [SARS-CoV-2] is still around us, so the public must still be on alert. The elderly and people with comorbidities are still at high risk, so vaccination must still continue,” Syahril said.
The WHO first declared COVID-19 a PHEIC on Jan. 30, 2020.
As cases were discovered and soared during the early weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries scrambled to close down borders and impose large-scale social restrictions in an effort to contain the disease.
In March 2020, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo declared COVID-19 a public health emergency with a presidential decree and imposed social restrictions to contain the disease.
On Dec. 30, 2022, Jokowi officially lifted public activity restrictions (PPKM) nationwide citing plummeting COVID-19 case numbers and the fact that most of the country’s population already have antibodies against the disease.
Meanwhile, Griffith University epidemiologist Dicky Budiman insistted that lifting of the PHEIC status for COVID-19 did not mean the disease was no longer a pandemic.
He said the threat of COVID-19 still persisted especially for those still reeling from the impact of the disease through long COVID, which are prolonged symptoms of the disease after recovery, while the elderly, people with comorbidities and children were still vulnerable to the disease.
“The PHEIC lifting does not eliminate the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19, which we will need a few years to transition out of,” Dicky said on Saturday.
He added that while the PHEIC lifting was a moment of celebration, it should also be a moment to reflect and introspect on how to detect potential epidemics early on, to properly respond to them and prevent another pandemic from happening.
“[Another] consequence of this PHEIC lifting is that Indonesia will be able to lift the COVID-19 emergency status at the national level,” Dicky said.