Indonesia to get Merck, Pfizer Covid-19 antiviral pills, anticipates Omicron surge at end of January

Indonesia will receive two types of antiviral pills, paxlovid (above) made by Pfizer and molnupiravir by Merck. PHOTO: PFIZER/AFP

Indonesia is set to receive its first shipment of two types of Covid-19 antiviral pills - molnupiravir made by Merck and paxlovid by Pfizer - next month (January), said Health Minister Budi Sadikin, as the country intensifies efforts to curb the spread of the infectious Omicron variant.

The government has filed a request to BPOM, the Indonesian equivalent of the United States Food and Drug Administration, to issue emergency-use approval for these two pills, slated to be released in the market next month.

"But we don't want people to get complacent; thinking there are Covid-19 drugs, (and) they go out to places not wearing a mask," Mr Budi told popular podcaster Deddy Corbuzier late on Tuesday (Dec 28).

He also revealed that the government is anticipating a possible surge in Omicron cases at the end of next month that could lead to an intense but short-lived wave.

The first community transmission of the Omicron variant in Indonesia was confirmed on Tuesday.

The country has so far reported 47 confirmed cases of Omicron, with the latest, the 47th case, being the first community infection.

"We are now more prepared if the next wave really comes," said Mr Budi, adding that there is ample stock of medication, more hospital beds, a high vaccination rate, as well as medical oxygen.

"That leaves us with the job to ensure that people continue to live normally but remain vigilant. Wearing a mask is important. Accelerating vaccination is very important."

Mr Budi also warned about the notable spike in the number of Indonesians travelling overseas for holidays recently, appealing to them to postpone such trips and noting that the Omicron variant may be less severe and less deadly than the Delta variant, but much more transmissible.

Most of Indonesia's imported Omicron cases were detected in travellers returning from Turkey, followed by those from Britain and the United Arab Emirates, according to data from the Health Ministry.

"No need to go overseas for now. We have many good tourist spots domestically," he said.

The world's fourth-most populous nation, with a population of 270 million, has fully vaccinated 107 million people and partially vaccinated 160 million. Children aged six to 11 started getting jabs last month. As many as 26 million children have been targeted to receive the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the number of overall coronavirus infections and deaths in South-east Asia's most populous nation has flattened.

Indonesia's seven-day average for infections peaked in mid-July with 50,000 cases daily.

The number plunged to 1,700 in early October, and to 172 early this week (Dec 27). Death rates have similarly dropped from a seven-day average peak of 1,700 in early August to around 100 in early October, and seven on Dec 27.

More people are going to restaurants and shopping malls compared with before the pandemic, according to Google's Covid-19 community mobility report.

Indonesia has been walking a fine line between having to support the momentum of economic recovery - as it reopened borders and lifted restrictions on movement and businesses - and having to prevent a Covid-19 resurgence.

It frequently sees a surge in infections after holiday breaks, including the Hari Raya holiday in May when millions of people ignored official warnings and travelled around the vast archipelago.

Infections and deaths skyrocketed, pushing hospitals and healthcare workers to the limit and causing oxygen shortages. This was the country's second and latest coronavirus wave that was preceded by a smaller-scale one in January and February.

Today, many parts of Indonesia have gradually moved towards normalcy after the country managed to bring the latest wave under control, caused predominantly by the Delta variant, which started after Hari Raya.

The variant was first detected in India and reached Indonesia around March. By June, it had dominated more than 90 per cent of cases, according to the government.

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