Indonesia: Raging epidemic provides fertile soil for new variants | Coronavirus pandemic news


Infectious disease experts from all over the world warned that the speed and scale of the coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia has created a perfect breeding ground for a potential new super strain that may be more infectious and lethal than the delta variant.

Last week, Indonesia surpassed India and Brazil to become the country with the largest number of daily reported cases in the world. On Thursday, the islands reported more than 49,500 new cases and 1,449 deaths.

“New variants always appear in regions or countries where the epidemic cannot be controlled,” said Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist who studies coronavirus variants at Griffith University in Australia. “World Health Organization [WHO] It is said that if more than 5% of the test results are positive, then the epidemic cannot be controlled. In Indonesia, this proportion has been higher than 10% in the 16 months since the pandemic began. It has now exceeded 30%. Therefore, you can imagine how likely it is for Indonesia to create a new variant or super variant of COVID-19. “

Amin Subandrio, director of the Ekman Institute, a government organization that studies tropical and emerging infectious diseases, said that although new variants have not yet appeared in Indonesia, it is vital to remain vigilant.

“As the number of cases increases, we cannot deny that this is possible, and we must observe carefully to identify new variants as soon as they appear,” he said.

Indonesia reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths on Thursday.As its hospitals cannot cope with the surge of cases, more and more people have to be isolated at home [File: Adi Weda/EPA]

Variations of interest

Viruses are constantly changing through genetic mutations, creating more advanced variants.

Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analysis at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that new COVID-19 variants are detected every week around the world, but “it has the properties of an RNA virus, such as a coronavirus. Gradually evolve and change”.

He said: “Most of them come and go-some persist but will not become more common; over a period of time, the population will increase and then disappear.”

Only when a variant exhibits a jump in its transmission capacity, an increase in severity based on hospitalization or death, or a decrease in the effectiveness of treatment and vaccines, will the WHO classify the strain as “Variations of interest‘.

Globally, there are four variants worthy of attention: the so-called Α Variant, first found in the UK; Variant Beta, first found in South Africa, delta Variants, first found in India; and Gamma variants, first found in Brazil.

Soebandrio said that with the exception of the Gamma variant, all other viruses have been detected in Indonesia, and the country now has the diagnostic capability to detect new strains in a short period of time. Since the beginning of this year, Indonesia has sequenced more than 3,000 genome strings, compared with only 200 to 300 last year. The results show that the Alpha variant is still spreading, but Delta dominates.

India’s top virologist, Shahid Jameel, said that the Delta variant is “four to five times more infectious than the original virus,” and he only recently led the SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Alliance Advisory Group in India , The alliance is responsible for monitoring variants of COVID-19.

Jameel said the situation in Indonesia is now “very similar” to the second wave of the outbreak in India due to the “low” vaccination rate. According to data from the Ministry of Health, only 8% of Indonesians are fully vaccinated.

An Indonesian military officer checks the driver’s credentials at a checkpoint in Jakarta.Indonesia has implemented travel restrictions and bans in an attempt to limit movement and control the surge in coronavirus cases [Bagus Indahono/EPA]

Chance to run wild

Representatives of two of the world’s leading coronavirus research teams in the United States are concerned that it is ripe for a new variant of COVID-19 in Indonesia.

Ali Mokdad, professor of health indicators science at the Seattle Institute of Health Indicators and Evaluation, said: “The more infections in the community, the greater the chance of new variants.” He also commented on the Indonesian Eid al-Adha and “events around it this week “Expressed concern.

Indonesia’s COVID-19 working group issued a special directive for holiday weeks to ban public travel across the country. It also extended the emergency partial lockdown introduced on July 3 until next Monday.

After a similar order was issued on Eid al-Fitr, which is the end of Ramadan, thousands of security personnel were deployed across the country to enforce the travel ban, but few people stopped travel.

But last weekend, the police and military in Gilimanuk Harbor in western Bali were watching. Thousands of migrant workers boarded the overcrowded ferry and returned to their families in Java, the epicenter of the Indonesian epidemic, to celebrate the holiday. I Nengah Tamba, the county magistrate who discovered Gilimanuk, refused to force an extension of the emergency partial blockade.

Dr. Robert Bollinger, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, warned that COVID-19 “is likely to mutate into a new variant every time it infects a new person. Therefore, the number of new cases including Indonesia In the communities and countries with the most, the risk of new mutations is the highest.”

However, predicting when and where new variants of attention will appear is currently beyond the capabilities of today’s scientists.

He said: “I can only say that when you give such an RNA virus a chance to wreak havoc, it will accumulate random mutations more frequently, and the chances of generating new variants will increase.”

“They should learn from India’s experience. The most important thing is the rapid increase in hospital capacity and oxygen supply. Unfortunately, the worst period in the region has yet to come.”

On July 14, a Balinese Hindu attended the Ngrastiti Bhakti ceremony to pray for the end of the pandemic. [File: Fikri Yusuf/Antara Foto via Reuters]

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