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Health

Indonesia capital eyes doubling of virus testing as cases soar

(Governor’s office corrects testing total in paragraph three to weekly, not daily)

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s capital plans to double its COVID-19 testing capacity in the near future, its governor told Reuters on Thursday, as it fights surging infections that saw restrictions re-imposed to slow the spread and help hospitals to cope.

Jakarta alone has seen more than 1,000 new daily cases on average this month, more than double the average in the first half of August, with the tide of infections piling pressure on its under-resourced health sector.

Governor Anies Baswedan said in an interview that the city of 10 million was conducting about 50,000 weekly coronavirus tests and hopes to “at least reach double from where we are today”.

According to the World Health Organization, Jakarta’s weekly testing rate of 5.5-6 people per 1,000 population in the past three weeks was five times the WHO’s minimum benchmark.

Baswedan said the rapid case rise left him no choice but to bring back social restrictions that he eased in June, with limits on commerce, transport and places of worship re-imposed.

“We had never experienced this kind of jump,” Baswedan said. “That’s why ... we decided to pull a brake.”

He said 13 of Jakarta’s 67 hospitals have been designated as COVID-19 treatment centres.

Asked if more would be dedicated to coronavirus cases, he said, “I don’t hope so.”

“No one wants to see that,” he added.

Indonesia reported 3,635 new infections and 122 deaths on Thursday, taking total cases to 232,628 and fatalities to 9,222, Southeast Asia’s most deaths.

Unlike many Asian capitals, Jakarta did not impose a lockdown and opted for a more calibrated approach, which some critics say was too lax.

Indonesia’s finance minister said Jakarta’s tighter curbs could see a steeper than expected third-quarter economic contraction.

Baswedan said it was about more than just the economy.

“We better handle the health crisis, so that not only the economy, social activities can go back on track,” he said.

Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Angie Teo; Additional reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Martin Petty

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