Indonesia lifts all Covid curbs, shifts to endemic approach

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Almost three years after officials announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Indonesia, the country’s leader said Friday they are lifting all coronavirus-related restrictions nationwide.

President Joko Widodo said Indonesia’s COVID-19 situation is under control after observing improvements over the past 10 months, allowing the country to abandon the large-scale social restrictions on crowds and people’s movement it had adopted in April 2020.

However, Widodo called on people to remain careful and alert as “the pandemic has not ended completely.” He told a news conference at the presidential palace in the capital, Jakarta, that the use of masks in crowds and closed spaces should continue, though it wouldn’t be required.

During the pandemic, instead of implementing a nationwide lockdown, his administration applied two systems: PSBB, which refers to large-scale social restrictions, and then PPKM, a tiered system to curb public mobility. Both policies were critical in the government’s pandemic response.

The PSBB was first imposed in the world’s fourth-most populous nation in April 2020, a month after the first case was recorded, as a compromise to growing calls for a stringent lockdown. It was re-worked into the emergency PPKM scheme in July 2021, when the delta variant-fueled second wave of infections swept the country.

The emergency status was then replaced by the four-level PPKM system, which Widodo announced would be abandoned immediately.

A study found that almost all Indonesians have developed antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, boosting confidence that an explosion of cases in Southeast Asia’s largest econ-omy could be avoided.

In July, researchers with the Health Ministry and the University of Indonesia examined blood samples from 20,501 individuals in 100 cities across the archipelago and found that 98.5% of the respondents had antibodies against the virus, due to either vaccination or past infection.

The figure is 10.2 percentage points higher than the 87.8% found in the previous survey from De-cember 2021. The country plans to conduct a third survey next month.

The government will also shift its response ef-forts to an “endemic” approach as the virus still exists in a community but becomes manageable as immunity builds, COVID-19 Handling Committee chair Airlangga Hartarto said in a separate news conference Friday.

Based on the World Health Organization criteria, Indonesia’s risk assessment status is at “Level One.”—AP