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Indonesia to get COVID-19 antiviral pills, anticipates Omicron surge at end of January

THE STRAITS TIMES – Indonesia is set to receive its first shipment of two types of COVID-19 antiviral pills – molnupiravir made by Merck and paxlovid by Pfizer – next month, said Health Minister Budi Sadikin, as the country intensifies efforts to curb the spread of the infectious Omicron variant.

The government has filed a request to BPOM, the Indonesian equivalent of the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to issue emergency-use approval for these two pills, slated to be released in the market next month.

“But we don’t want people to get complacent; thinking there are COVID-19 drugs, (and) they go out to places not wearing a mask,” Budi told popular podcaster Deddy Corbuzier late on Tuesday.

He also revealed that the government is anticipating a possible surge in Omicron cases at the end of next month that could lead to an intense but short-lived wave.

The first community transmission of the Omicron variant in Indonesia was confirmed on Tuesday.

Passengers inside a train leaving a train station in Jakarta. PHOTO: AP

The country has so far reported 47 confirmed cases of Omicron, with the latest, the 47th case, being the first community infection.

“We are now more prepared if the next wave really comes,” said Budi, adding that there is ample stock of medication, more hospital beds, a high vaccination rate, as well as medical oxygen.

“That leaves us with the job to ensure that people continue to live normally but remain vigilant. Wearing a mask is important. Accelerating vaccination is very important.”

Budi also warned about the notable spike in the number of Indonesians travelling overseas for holidays recently, appealing to them to postpone such trips and noting that the Omicron variant may be less severe and less deadly than the Delta variant, but much more transmissible.

Most of Indonesia’s imported Omicron cases were detected in travellers returning from Turkey, followed by those from Britain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to data from the Health Ministry.

“No need to go overseas for now. We have many good tourist spots domestically,” he said.

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