COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: Indonesia to assess which cities should ease restrictions amid strained budgets

Indonesia has previously prepared plans to let tourists start heading to a few main destinations like Bali, Yogyakarta and North Sulawesi. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia has set up a team to gauge which cities should ease restrictions amid growing financing pressures that are affecting many of them after the coronavirus outbreak caused their tax revenue to plunge to a level that could jeopardise day-to-day governing activities.

The team, part of Indonesia's Covid-19 task force, will also study which sector should reopen up first.

The national government has previously prepared plans to let tourists start heading to a few main destinations - Bali, Yogyakarta and North Sulawesi - when conditions improve. These three provinces have recorded relatively lower infection rates than most others.

Indonesia consists of 34 provinces and each province is made up of cities and regencies that total 500 across the archipelago. Of these, four provinces and 26 cities that had higher than average infection rates in the country have put in place large scale social distancing measures, which equate to a semi-lockdown.

The tourism sector in Indonesia provides millions of jobs in wide-ranging industries. The country saw 16 million foreign arrivals last year.

The timing on when the restrictions could be eased would depend on later evaluations, head of the Covid-19 task force Doni Monardo said, stressing that anyone should not rule out a possibility of having to continue to live with the coronavirus.

President Joko Widodo has separately discussed strategies to deal with the challenge of having to start a new normal with the deadly virus.

"As directed by the President, we won't ease restrictions in the coming week or two. We did discuss plans, scenarios whose realisation would be dependent on data and information from the ground," said Lieutenant-General Doni.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan expects conditions to improve in the coming weeks.

"No one could give exact predictions, but from the data that we currently have, our preliminary calculations, show that the trend would improve (in a matter of weeks)," Mr Luhut told The Straits Times last Thursday (May 14).

"We have geared up for when it happens, to welcome people who may then be able to go to Bali," he added, describing the conditions in Bali and two other destinations, Yogyakarta and North Sulawesi, as better.

Indonesia's stance towards easing restrictions is in line with other countries in South-east Asia that are easing lockdowns in a gradual manner amid rising coronavirus cases.

Last Friday (May 15), the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised that careful assessment of local epidemiology should guide future actions to combat the virus.

"Countries in the region must continue to take evidence-informed action and conduct careful risk assessment while winding back public health and social measures," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for WHO South-east Asia.

"The focus should be on local epidemiology of Covid-19, to identify hotspots and clusters, and the capacity of systems and responders to find, isolate and care for cases, and quarantine contacts," he added.

For Indonesia, there is a push factor to promptly start a new normal and ease restrictions as some of its cities have witnessed tax revenue dropping by as much as 90 per cent.

The world's fourth most populous nation started a decentralisation drive at the turn of the century, reducing Jakarta's control over the regions that since then could start levying their own respective taxes and issue regulations.

A senior government official in Jakarta told ST that many regional governments on the provincial, city and regency level are facing challenges in funding their budgetary plans.

Jakarta's municipal government has slashed staff salaries by half for this month and is withholding annual bonus, according to two municipal officials contacted by ST.

"Jakarta is among those facing fiscal problems. Our annual budget must be massively adjusted," a senior city official said.

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