Indonesia’s Capital to Reimpose Social Restrictions as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Jakarta ‘pulling the emergency brake’ . . .

Beginning Monday, the Indonesian capital of Jakarta will reinstate large-scale social restrictions (known as PSBB in Bahasa) as new country-wide COVID-19 cases average 3,000 daily, with total cases in the capital now surpassing 50,000. The surge in cases since the end of August is threatening to overwhelm the city’s health-care system where, according to Governor Anies Baswedan, almost 80 per cent of hospital isolation beds for COVID-19 patients are occupied. Although hospitals and the city’s government have worked together to increase capacity, at the current rate, infections will overwhelm hospitals by mid-October. While all provinces have cases, Jakarta and neighbouring West, Central, and East Java have been the hardest hit in recent weeks.

Political discord . . .

Governor Baswedan’s announcement surprised central government ministers who strongly oppose the plan. They say the governor failed to request central approval and are considered that the overly ‘drastic’ PSBB measures could severely hamper economic recovery. As with the first partial lockdown between April and June, Jakarta will restrict public transit and only allow 11 essential sectors to function at limited capacity, with other industries required to work from home. Ministers, however, said government employees would continue in-office work. Jakarta’s governor is not the only official to act unilaterally in light of slow central government action, as several Indigenous communities through the archipelago have also implemented their own strict measures since June to prevent and curb transmissions.

Flattening the curve or the economy?

Although President Joko Widodo and his government have prioritized economic concerns over public health through the pandemic, he did not outright oppose Baswedan’s plan, instead urging caution in implementing PSBB measures and collaboration with Jakarta’s satellite cities to mitigate disruption. Domestic and foreign analysts believe that economic recovery cannot happen until Indonesia succeeds in controlling COVID-19 transmission. An ongoing health crisis also makes Indonesia less competitive in attracting investment compared to neighbours like Vietnam and Malaysia, which have managed infections more successfully. On the positive side, Indonesia has been very active multilaterally in the pursuit of long-term strategies against COVID-19, most recently negotiating with Canada on Thursday to obtain future vaccines.