JAKARTA: Indonesia's daily coronavirus positivity rate dropped below the World Health Organization's (WHO) benchmark standard of 5% this week for the first time, an indicator the country's devastating second wave could be easing.
The positivity rate, or the proportion of people tested who are positive, peaked at 33.4% in July when Indonesia became Asia's coronavirus epicentre, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.
On Monday that rate fell to 4.57%, the lowest since March 2020, when Indonesia's first cases were reported, according to independent data initiative, Kawal COVID-19.
A rate above 5% indicates coronavirus is out of control, the WHO says.
Kawal co-founder Elina Ciptadi said the trend was a good sign, although she cautioned that official data could not capture a dearth of underreported cases and deaths.
"All in all, what we are seeing is encouraging," she said.
Since its July peak, the average positivity rate has fallen steadily, from 23.8% in the first week of August to 11.3% in the final week of that month, to 6.2% on average so far in September
Coronavirus restrictions were eased further on Monday, with most areas on Java island downgraded, allowing conditional operation of malls, factories and restaurants.
But President Joko Widodo urged Indonesians not to be complacent.
"People need to realise that Covid is always lurking," he said. "When our guards are down, (cases) can increase again."
Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman from Australia's Griffith University said testing and tracing efforts remain weak.
"I'm both happy and worried about the decline," he said. "There were efforts from the government, but not strong enough to get us out of the crisis period," he said, adding improvements were mostly in big cities.
Weekly health ministry data last week shows several provinces still recording high positivity rates, with Aceh at 17.4% and North Kalimantan at 16.7%.
Covid-19 task force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito said the government would keep improving its testing and tracing capability.
"We're hoping this good condition can be upheld," he added.