Source Jakarta Post

JAKARTA, Indonesia--The widely predicted third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is now raging, driven mainly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus, which has been spreading like wildfire in other parts of the world.

The rise of the variant, which was only identified late last year, is inevitable. The question now is how we should deal with the crisis.

The speed at which Omicron spreads once it takes hold in a community is indeed worrying. On Jan. 3, Indonesia recorded 265 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths.

A month later, the daily figure soared to more than 32,000 cases and 42 deaths. It is expected that the numbers will grow until the wave peaks in March.

The government has expressed confidence that it will be able to weather Omicron’s assault, citing the nation’s improved vaccination rate and studies that have found that Omicron tends to result in milder symptoms than its predecessor, Delta, which sickened and killed thousands in the second wave of the pandemic in July of last year.

Even after the rapid upsurge of the virus in recent days, the government has declined to increase the level of public activity restrictions (PPKM) in Jakarta, the epicenter of the current surge, now set at level 2.

It has argued that with Omicron, the surge in cases will not translate into overwhelming hospitalization rates as during Alpha or Delta.

It has said it will use hospitalization numbers exclusively to assess whether to raise the PPKM level.

We are now more prepared than we were during the first and second waves of the pandemic, with more than 62 percent of the nation’s population and more than 93 percent of the capital city’s population fully vaccinated.

The scientific community also agrees that Omicron is less virulent than many of the previous variants.

But we are obliged to remind the government that Omicron remains a serious threat to our healthcare system and that we should not take any risks. We join the calls made by epidemiologists for the government to impose new mobility curbs to slow down the rate of infection.

It is folly to treat everything as business as usual when a storm of cases is coming. The goal would be to flatten the curve and prevent the virus from overburdening our healthcare system, which would mean more deaths.

The government cannot afford to make another blunder that exacerbates the health crisis. There is just too much at stake. We are entering the third year of the pandemic, and it would be difficult for the economy to cope with another hard lockdown or if the current wave of cases spirals into a full-blown health crisis.

Furthermore, such eventualities would severely damage our credibility as president of the Group of 20. We hope the Omicron wave will be short-lived, as it was in other countries. This would mean that the new curbs would not have to last long either. It is said that Omicron will be like a “flash flood”.

But as a country that deals regularly with various forms of hydrological disaster, we should all know that, while short-lived, a flash flood can be a deadly force of nature if it’s not prepared for.