JAKARTA • Indonesia may soon quarantine almost 30 million people in its capital and surrounding areas to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people in the world's fourth-most populous nation.
The police and transport officials conducted drills on limiting the movement of people from the Greater Jakarta area at the weekend, the Jakarta Post reported.
West Java governor Ridwan Kamil said a decision on the lockdown, including in the worst virus-hit areas of the province adjoining Jakarta, was expected today.
The plan for a shutdown follows a spike in confirmed cases, with the number of infections in Jakarta reaching 675, more than half the country's total. The pandemic has killed 114 people, the highest number of fatalities in South-east Asia.
The lockdown will allow the authorities to prevent an exodus of people from the capital city area to their hometowns or villages as jobs are lost or when the Muslim-majority nation celebrates Lebaran at the end of the fasting month on May 24.
The return of people in large numbers from places like Jakarta, the epicentre of the pandemic in Indonesia, to their homes can complicate ongoing efforts to halt the spread of the virus, Mr Ridwan said in a statement yesterday.
There are fears a new wave of infections could soon hit the nation of almost 270 million people as the authorities ramp up rapid testing of suspected cases using blood samples. The authorities had already declared a state of emergency until April 19 in Jakarta, asking companies to allow employees to work from home and businesses to operate only essential services to contain the virus spike.
President Joko Widodo had argued against copying the lockdown model adopted by countries such as China and Malaysia, saying the character and culture of the country should be taken into account in deciding shutdowns, and instead called for voluntary physical distancing. But the surge in cases has overwhelmed the country's healthcare system.
The government temporarily banned exports of face masks and sanitiser, and allowed traders to import garlic and onions without permits to boost supplies ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan that starts near the end of next month.
The government had already ordered retailers to ration the sale of staples such as rice, cooking oils, sugar and instant noodles to prevent panic buying and hoarding.
In Malaysia, more than 1,000 people were arrested for violating the 28-day Movement Control Order (MCO), which was in its 12th day yesterday.
Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said 73 people were charged and have pleaded guilty.
Violators of the MCO can be fined RM1,000 (S$330) or face a jail term of up to six months, based on the Infectious Diseases Act. But the authorities could slap them with other laws which carry stiffer punishments.
In Thailand, dozens of prisoners broke furniture and smashed windows during a riot yesterday, sparked by fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the facility. During the violence, some convicts escaped from the Buriram prison where 2,000 are held, the justice ministry said. Seven have been arrested.
Local media showed footage of black smoke billowing from the facility in the country's north-east. Thailand yesterday reported total infections of 1,388 and seven fatalities.
The Philippines yesterday reported total confirmed cases of 1,418 and a death toll of 71.
BLOOMBERG, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE