Indonesia plans law to punish coronavirus rule breakers as cases soar

A teacher helps a student put on a mask during the first day of school in Sibreh, Aceh, July 13, 2020.
A teacher helps a student put on a mask during the first day of school in Sibreh, Aceh, July 13, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - Indonesia plans to fine violators of social distancing rules under a new law as President Joko Widodo steps up efforts to contain the biggest outbreak of coronavirus in South-east Asia.

Provincial chiefs will determine the types of punishment for offenders, taking into account local traditions, Mr Joko told a meeting of governors in Jakarta on Wednesday (July 15).

Earlier this week, the President told a Cabinet meeting that people not wearing masks in public and those failing to maintain physical distance may be ordered to pay a fine or do social service.

Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, has pointed to reluctance among Indonesians to wear masks as a key reason for the spread of the virus that's claimed almost 3,800 lives and infected 80,094 people, the most among South-east Asian nations.

New cases have surged in recent weeks following easing of mobility restrictions, including in the capital Jakarta and Surabaya, the second-largest city, as the government seeks to minimise the hit to businesses and stem job losses.

The President will issue a decree that will serve as an umbrella regulation allowing provincial governors to set rules, Mr Joko's office said in a statement.

He said local governments may follow the example of West Java, which already punishes offenders of various health protocols.

Containing the spread of the pandemic at the earliest was key to reviving the nation's economy, which is forecast to slump 4.3 per cent in the second quarter, according to Mr Joko.

The President also urged heads of the nation's 34 provinces to accelerate government spending to stimulate growth and consumption.

The pandemic has battered Indonesia's economy, spurring policymakers into action with almost US$50 billion (S$69.46 billion) in fiscal stimulus, interest rate cuts and bond purchases.

Mr Joko has said the pandemic is having a bigger impact on the nation than the Asian financial crisis more than two decades ago.