The government of Indonesia has announced that it will make various efforts to meet the procurement of reagent tools and fluids to achieve its daily target of 10,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19.
This followed President Joko Widodo’s disappointment on the country’s failure to meet the target set in April.
Mr Widodo told an online cabinet meeting from Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on Monday (11 May) that Indonesia can now test around 4,000 to 5,000 samples daily, according to a report he had just received.
The said estimate, he stressed, is far from the target he had set last month.
Chairman of the country’s COVID-19 task force Doni Monardo said that only half of 104 laboratories in the Health Ministry’s network are testing Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 outbreak.
Provinces beyond Java such as North Maluku, North Kalimantan and Southeast Sulawesi, he noted, still do not have a COVID-19 laboratory, and have no choice but to send their samples to neighbouring provinces with such facilities.
The lack of skilled laboratory technicians is also a crucial struggle in Indonesia’s efforts to build testing capacity.
Officers in the designated laboratories only work on weekdays.
Mr Monardo said he hopes that the laboratory can operate round the clock.
He also revealed plans to recruit members of the army and police forces to conduct tests in both the military and police hospitals.
“Staff will be divided into at least three shifts, so the ability to examine specimens every day in the whole laboratory will be increased,” he said.
Inconsistent data poses challenges in predicting peak of COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia, epidemologists say
According to epidemiologists, inconsistent data make it difficult for researchers to predict when the pandemic peak of COVID-19 will occur.
Lower than the estimate cited by Mr Monardo earlier, the number of daily PCR tests even dropped to around 3,000 samples on 10 and 11 May.
The figure also included those obtained via Molecular Rapid Tests (TCM).
Epidemiologist Laura Navika said that while the reduced number of tests will cause the number of cases to appear to decrease, it does not reflect the real situation.
“It could be that the case is not decreasing because it is actually decreasing, but that instead the number of tests conducted was inconsistent,” Ms Navika said.
“It could be a false decline. As a result, members of the public can think their cases are winding down, and there can be a desire to start doing the normal everyday routine,” she added.
“Indeed, the prediction of the peak of the pandemic is based on data that has been collected day by day.
“If there is specimen chaos and the quality of the data is not good enough, it will affect the quality of the prediction,” Dr Navika said.
One of the reasons the number of tests is not consistent per day is because of the scarcity of reagents — the liquid used for testing COVID-19 — in a number of areas.
In Central Kalimantan, where the number of positive cases has exceeded 200, the COVID-19 laboratory has not even started its operation due to reagent limitations.
Specimens from this province were sent to other areas, such as Surabaya and Jakarta, which resulted in the results of the tests only to be received in about 10 days, said the Head of the Central Kalimantan Health Service, Suyuti.
“A big problem for us is the limited primary reagents. We have a new PCR device, but it is still in the testing phase, so there are no official results yet,” he said.
As of Monday, Indonesia has tested over 113,000 people for COVID-19. Approximately 10 per cent of the test results turned out positive.