A worker wears a face mask for curbing the spread of coronavirus outbreak at an empty school ground in Bali, Indonesia on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
View All (7)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases breached half a million on Monday as the government of the world’s fourth most populous nation scrambled to procure vaccines to help it win the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Indonesia's Health Ministry announced that new daily infections rose by 4,442 to bring the country’s total to 502,110, the most in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 9.1 million confirmed cases. It also reported a total of 16,002 deaths from the coronavirus.

President Joko Widodo said at a Cabinet meeting that his administration is preparing mass vaccinations. He urged his ministers to ensure the safe and smooth distribution of vaccines across the vast archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people.

The government is making all-out efforts to secure vaccines through bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

Indonesia’s economy, the largest in Southeast Asia, has fallen into recession for the first time since the Asian financial crisis more than two decades ago. It contracted at a 3.5% annual pace in July-September, its second consecutive quarterly contraction.

The government has yet to decide which COVID-19 vaccine to use.

“I’m not saying which brand just yet, but as long as it is on the World Health Organization list, we are going to use it,” Widodo said when he visited a health center in West Java’s Bogor city last Thursday.

Indonesia is already cooperating with China's Sinovac in phase 3 clinical trials of its vaccine candidate, with tests being carried out on 1,620 volunteers in West Java’s Bandung city since August. The government also looked into partnerships with two other Chinese drug manufacturers, Sinopharm and CanSino Biologics.

Penny Lukito, head of the Food and Drug Control Agency, estimated the Sinovac vaccine would obtain emergency use authorization from the agency by the third or fourth week of January, after the agency evaluates interim results from the third stage clinical trial.

The State-Owned Enterprises Ministry said Indonesia aims to vaccinate 107 million people between the ages of 18 and 59, or about 67% of the population in the age group, by the end of next year. Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto has said the government will wait to vaccinate older people until research and clinical trials show that a vaccine is safe for them.

The government aims to fund the vaccinations for more than 32 million people, including the poor, health workers, the military and police, civil servants and teachers. The other 204 million will need to buy the vaccines by themselves from state-owned companies such as Bio Farma.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi previously said that Indonesia has secured a commitment to receive 20 million to 30 million doses of the potential vaccine by the end of this year.