JAKARTA (REUTERS) - The head of Indonesia's Covid-19 taskforce on Thursday (Dec 17) urged regions of the country with a testing capacity well above World Health Organisation standards to save their resources because "we will be in this war for a long time".
The world's fourth-most populous nation is struggling with the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in South-east Asia, with more than 643,000 confirmed cases and almost 20,000 deaths.
Public health experts have long called for testing to be increased, saying that along with contact tracing it is key to controlling the epidemic and finding the true number of cases.
But the head of Indonesia's Covid-19 taskforce, Doni Monardo, told Reuters some regions should hit the brakes to safeguard testing resources as the pandemic could continue for some time.
"There are regions with a testing capacity rate that is nine times the WHO standard and some regions with very minimal capacity," he said. "The regions that are already too high, we cannot let that happen," he said, adding that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests should be saved since Indonesia faced a long "war".
Mr Monardo did not single out regions, but according to its official website the capital Jakarta conducted 81,689 PCR tests last week - more than eight times the WHO's minimum benchmark of 1,000 tests per 1 million people per week.
Jakarta's health office was not immediately available for comment.
Taskforce spokesman Wiku Adisasmito said 16 of 34 provinces had reached the WHO standard and he hoped that figure would grow, but provinces needed to be "mindful of the scope of the tests" and "the availability of test supplies in their area".
Indonesia has one of the lowest testing rates in the world relative to its population, while its positivity rate - or the percentage of people tested who are found to have the disease - has exceeded 17.5 per cent in the past week. The WHO has said a positivity rate of less than 5 per cent is an indicator that an epidemic is under control.
As of mid-December, Indonesia had conducted 15.89 tests per 1,000 people, compared to 859.96 in neighbouring Singapore and 54.08 in the Philippines, according to Our World in Data.
University of Indonesia epidemiologist Pandu Riono said testing should not be rationed even though the pandemic was far from over.