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Indonesia receives 1.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from China

JAKARTA: Indonesia has received 1.2 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine made by China's Sinovac, officials said, as the world's fourth most populous nation struggles to get soaring case rates under control.

The regional election starting tomorrow is also expected to drive up infections.

The doses arrived in Jakarta late Sunday from Beijing, with another 1.8 million expected to be sent again next month.

Although Chinese regulators have yet to clear any of the country's vaccines for mass distribution, they have approved some advanced candidates for emergency use.

Yesterday, Indonesia's Covid-19 response team chief Airlangga Hartarto said the first batch of doses will be examined by the food and drug agency, with plans to distribute them to medical workers and other high-risk groups.

The country's top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesia Ulema Council, will also check the first consignment, officials said. This is to ensure it meets halal requirements in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Late Sunday, President Joko Widodo welcomed the delivery.

"We are grateful that the vaccine is now available and we can immediately prevent the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak," he said. "(But) I have to reiterate, first, that all procedures must be followed properly to ensure public health and safety, and the efficacy of the vaccine."

In August, Indonesia launched human trials of the Sinovac-made jab, with around 1,600 volunteers taking part in the six-month study.

The Indonesian government has paid some 637 billion rupiah (S$60 million) for the three million Sinovac doses. Another 100,000 more are set to be delivered by another Chinese firm, CanSino.

"We expect that multilateral vaccines (from other countries) will also start to arrive gradually in 2021," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said yesterday.

Indonesia has been in talks with other pharmaceutical firms, including UK-based AstraZeneca.

The country remains the worst-hit in South-east Asia with more than 575,000 cases and 17,740 deaths, as of Sunday.

And those numbers may rise with the regional elections tomorrow.

Mr Achmad Sukarsono, a senior analyst at consultancy group Control Risks, said Indonesians have always been communal, making it hard to practise social distancing. "The surge will clearly happen. It will be a super-spreader event."

Mr Achmad expressed concern that the elections would be the source of new clusters in the rural regions, which currently have low infection rates. With the lack of testing and health treatment facilities, these cases would largely go undetected.

Ms Titi Anggraini, executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy, said while the government has harped on the merits of social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands, it has failed to incorporate these rules into the electoral process.

"There are no special voting arrangements, such as extending voting time or staggering voting hours," said Ms Titi. - REUTERS, THE STRAITS TIMES

WORLD