JAKARTA: Indonesia has detected three cases of the new ‘delta plus’ COVID-19 variant on the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi.
The surge in infections has spread to provinces on the two islands and the Kalimantan region, or the Indonesian part of Borneo, from Bali and its most populous island of Java.
The Health Ministry’s director for prevention and control of direct communicable diseases, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, told Arab News on Saturday that the delta plus variant, or AY.1, was identified earlier this week as a result of local transmission in two patients in the Jambi province on Sumatra and Mamuju, a district of West Sulawesi province.
The delta plus variant B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1 is a sublineage of the highly contagious delta variant.
It has a renewed mutation in the virus’ spike protein and therefore, according to Tarmizi, is “just as infectious as the original delta variant.”
The findings in Jambi and Mamuju add Indonesia to a list of 10 countries — Japan, Nepal, Poland, the US, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, China, Russia and India — where the delta plus variant has been detected. It was first identified in India in April.
Scientists said that Indonesia needed to step up its outbreak mitigation in response to the delta variant and “to detect the emergence of other new variants.”
“We need to increase our whole genome sequencing testing so that we are well aware of the variants that we have here and to mitigate them better,” public health professor Tjandra Yoga Aditama said in a statement on Saturday.
Indonesia’s government had predicted a spike in infections after the Eid break, despite the travel ban, citing a pattern seen during the holiday season.
However, authorities were caught off-guard with rising infections made worse by the delta variant.
There had been a rise in cases since early June, peaking on July 15, with 56,757 daily cases reported from less than 10,000 in mid-June.
Indonesia registered 37,284 new cases on Saturday, taking the total tally to 3,409,658 out of its population of 270,000 million, while its positivity rate has been consistent at about 25 percent in recent weeks.
The national caseload, mainly from infections in Java’s provinces, showed a decreasing trend after restrictions to movement were imposed on Java and Bali, which have now been added to other islands, since early June. Restrictions are expected to end on Monday.
“I see that the numbers in regions on Java Island are slowly decreasing, but now it is the other way around (on islands) outside of Java,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Friday.
The daily number of infections is still far from the 10,000 figure the government aims to achieve by imposing restrictions in Java and Bali, while the daily testing and vaccinations rate is far below the target as well.
The official death toll from COVID-19 increased to 94,119 after 1,808 new deaths were recorded on Saturday. The number of fatalities has risen consistently to more than 500 a day since early July, while the highest fatality count was recorded on July 27, with 2,067 deaths in a day.
Wiku Adisasmito, spokesman for the national COVID-19 task force, said: “July is the deadliest month during the pandemic in Indonesia,” with more than 31,000 deaths recorded throughout the month compared to 7,913 deaths in June.
Aditama, the former director of the World Health Organization’s Southeast Asia regional office, traced the high fatality count to the spike in cases.
“If infections in the community remain rampant, cases will continue to increase, and in proportion, deaths and cases with severe symptoms would also rise,” he said.