Dozens of people took to the streets of Denpasar yesterday with no masks on to protest rapid and swab tests requirements, alleging that the health prerequisites were introduced to make a profit.
The protest was organized by Masyarakat Nusantara Sehat (MANUSA), a group comprising Democratic Front of the People’s Struggle (Frontier) Bali and the Bali Community Against Rapid, which called on the public to join them in the workout event slash protest on Sunday morning.
“We are educating the public so that they know and criticize the government’s policy that requires rapid tests and swab tests as an administrative requirement,” protest coordinator Krishna Dinata said.
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Though organizers noted that COVID-19 is real and emphasized that they should stand up against those who are using this pandemic to make a profit, it was clear that most of the protesters did not keep their distance from each other nor did they wear face masks. It’s also worth noting that among the protesters is Bali punk rock icon I Gede Ari Astina AKA Jerinx of the band Superman is Dead (SID), who has been sprouting conspiracy theories related to the pandemic since March.
The Bali provincial government laid out test requirements on a circular dated July 5, in which those traveling to and from other provinces in Indonesia are required to present the results of a rapid test, and also requiring tourist destinations to conduct rapid tests for their staff and sellers in the area, among others.
Krisna reportedly cited various doctors, experts, and hospitals, who said that both rapid and swab tests are ineffective in detecting the coronavirus.
Rapid tests are a preliminary screening test which detects the presence of antibodies in the blood of people believed to have been infected with COVID-19. There have been concerns for both false-positives and false-negatives results from rapid tests, and while it may be useful at the onset of the pandemic due to limited resources, many experts have argued that Indonesia should be conducting more PCR tests at this point. To date, only “reactive” results are followed with PCR or swab testing, which is the recommended method to identify and confirm COVID-19 cases.
It is worth noting that many health experts in Indonesia have indeed criticized the use of rapid tests as an administrative requirement, especially for the purpose of traveling. This includes public health expert Pandu Riono from the University of Indonesia (UI), as seen in the tweet below:
Stop Rapid Test Antibody sebagai persyaratan perjalanan. https://t.co/h0xjSVineL
— Pandu Riono (@drpriono) July 25, 2020
Meanwhile, the Association of Indonesia’s Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine specialists (PDS PatKLIn) also issued a recommendation on July 6 that says both rapid tests and PCR tests should not be required for travelers, and instead suggested other prerequisites, such as the use of fingertip pulse oximeter to measure heart rate and oxygen saturation.
In addition, official requirements for rapid tests across the country have bred new issues, such as allegations that the rapid tests have been turned into profit-making ventures. The Indonesian Ombudsman earlier this month urged the central government to review existing regulations on COVID-19 rapid tests, stressing that they should be free of charge or at least subsidized.
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