Jakarta (ANTARA) - After enjoying nearly normal life for about six months, Indonesians are now once again being asked to increase vigilance and observe health protocols strictly amid a spike in infections following the emergence of the XBB sub-variant of Omicron.

Based on data provided by the Task Force for COVID-19 Handling (covid19.go.id), as of October 31, 2022, noon, Indonesia has added 2,717 daily cases, with 24,544 people hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment.

The government has confirmed that the number of daily cases of COVID-19 in Indonesia has risen, with a corresponding increase recorded in the bed occupancy rate (BOR) at COVID-19 hospitals as well as the positivity rate.

"The occupancy rate at COVID-19 hospitals, or national BOR, increased in the last week, in line with the increase in cases, specifically around 19.88 percent (BOR)," government spokesperson for COVID-19 handling, Reisa Broto Asmoro, informed at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on October 27.

She said that on October 24, the country recorded only 1,703 new cases. However, the figure almost doubled to 3,008 the next day and rose further to 3,048 on October 26.

The XBB sub-variant of COVID-19 has a faster transmission rate compared to the BA.5 and BA.2 sub-variants. However, the symptoms of XBB are similar to other Omicron sub-variants. In fact, the fatality rate of the XBB variant is lower compared to that of other Omicron sub-variants.

"We are learning from the situation in our neighboring country to improve our alertness. We cannot let the number of cases spike again in Indonesia," Asmoro said.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the XBB sub-variant’s symptoms comprise chills, cough, fatigue, muscle ache, headache, and sore throat.

The symptoms also include stuffy or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and shortness of breath.

Related news: Govt pushes greater health protocol compliance amid global COVID spike

At least 19 countries, including Australia, Malaysia, India, Singapore, and the United Kingdom (UK), where most overseas travelers visiting Indonesia come from are currently experiencing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases.

Among the five countries, most of the XBB infections have been detected in India and Singapore, the Health Ministry’s director for health surveillance and quarantine, Achmad Farchanny Tri Adryanto, said at a talk show on “Facing New Variants: Tighten Health Protocols, Complete Vaccination” on October 28.

According to the ministry’s data, as of October 19, in addition to the five countries, the United States, Germany, South Korea, France, Russia, the Netherlands, Vietnam, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Spain, and Canada have also reported a surge in infections.

There are concerns that the spike in cases in those countries may also affect Indonesia. Hence, the government will continue to monitor the global situation and the development of the transmission of the XBB sub-variant.

Despite the emergence of XBB, the BA.5 sub-variant of Omicron has remained dominant in Indonesia.

To prevent large-scale transmission of the sub-variant in Indonesia, the government is currently increasing health quarantine surveillance.

The surveillance is not only focusing on overseas travelers, but also transportation and shipments at cross-border posts, especially those arriving from countries affected by the XBB sub-variant.

The Soekarno Hatta (Soetta) International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, has tightened supervision of international arrivals following a surge in COVID-19 cases in Singapore, which is reporting thousands of infections per day.

"The principle is the same; we supervise (the movement of arriving passengers), whatever variant that is, because the most important thing is carrying out health protocols," head of the Port Health Office (KKP) of Soekarno Hatta Airport, Naning Pranoto, said on October 30.

Related news: Govt tightens surveillance of travelers from nations with COVID spike

In addition, the Health Ministry is also trying to improve the vaccination coverage as well as the Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) examination of detected COVID-19 cases at all laboratories and health offices.

"All positive cases which we find must be further examined by Whole Genome Sequencing examination. Thus, we can find out the variants and sub-variants causing the cases as soon as possible," Adryanto explained.

He also appealed to the public to bolster the observance of the health protocols, including wearing masks and washing hands, and remain disciplined in implementing them. He also urged people to get vaccinated.

Currently, the government is continuing to pursue the booster or third vaccination dose target.

So far, more than 441 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Indonesian people. At least 73.2 percent of the targeted recipients have received the second dose. Meanwhile, the third dose has been provided to only 64.8 million people or 27.6 percent of the 234,666,020 targeted recipients.

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said he believes that the government's massive COVID-19 vaccination program has protected Indonesian people from the new XBB sub-variant.

Vaccinations administered to the public earlier have succeeded in maintaining herd immunity to this day and made Indonesia relatively safer as the COVID-19 infection is relatively under control, he observed.

He, however, reminded the public to keep implementing health protocols strictly, get booster vaccinations as soon as possible, and adhere to the regulation imposed by the government.

The first case of COVID-19 in Indonesia was confirmed in March 2020. According to data from the COVID-19 Handling Task Force, as of October 31, the nation has recorded 6,490,622 COVID-19 cases,6,307,481 recoveries, and 158,597 deaths.

According to government spokesperson for COVID-19 Handling, Wiku Adisasmito, as of October 23, the number of weekly positive cases reached 2.98 million globally.

Various experts from the United States and the World Health Organization have predicted that the XBB sub-variant may cause a spike in cases in late 2022 that will peak in January 2023. However, there has been no evidence so far to indicate that the sub-variant is more dangerous than the previous ones.

Hence, the Indonesian authorities have emphasized the importance of increasing the coverage of booster vaccinations ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays.

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Editor: Suharto
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