Indonesia tightens social restrictions in Jakarta, Bali and 2 other cities as Covid-19 cases surge

The tighter restrictions came as Southeast Asia’s biggest economy geared up for a number of international events this year. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA -  Indonesia is tightening social restrictions in Greater Jakarta, Bali, Bandung and Yogyakarta amid a spike in Covid-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The authorities expect the surge in cases to peak later this month, and the government said on Monday (Feb 7) that the number of people allowed in public places in the four cities will be restricted.

Restaurants, cafes, shopping malls must again limit visitors and operate at 60 per cent capacity, playgrounds and entertainment centres at 35 per cent capacity, and places of worship at 50 per cent.

Mr Luhut Pandjaitan, the senior minister in charge of coordinating efforts to contain Covid-19 on the country’s most populous island of Java as well as Bali, said the government will now look at the ratio of hospital bed occupation and contact tracing when evaluating if a city required tighter restrictions.

Java and Bali account for 60 per cent of Indonesia’s more than 270 million population.

“Frankly, we do not want people to get frightened and the economy affected, while in fact the real problem may not actually be as bad. We are closely monitoring the situation this week. If things are good, we may ease restrictions next week,” Mr Luhut told reporters during an online media briefing on Monday.

About 65 per cent of patients in hospital for Covid-19 have no or mild symptoms, he disclosed, adding that they should instead self-isolate at home or be sent to a designated isolation facility.

Government data shows that currently, 18,966 hospital beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients, which is less than 20 per cent of the 120,000 set aside for them. Indonesia has a total of about 400,000 hospital beds nationwide.

Said Health Minister Budi Sadikin, who was also at the same online media briefing: “It’s important the public understand that cases will spike. In other countries, Omicron cases are doubled or tripled that of Delta. What is important is we continue to comply with health protocols so that hospitalisation and death numbers are low.”

Delta is the more deadly of the two coronavirus variants, but Omicron is far more transmissible. 

Indonesia was hit by a Covid-19 wave in early 2021, and this was followed by a more devastating one, dominated by the Delta variant in the middle of the year, which saw daily new cases exceed 50,000 at its peak.

The second wave pushed hospitals and healthcare workers to the limit. 

“Do not panic when seeing high case numbers because what matters more are hospitalisation and death numbers, which are far lower and under control,” Mr Budi said.

“If patients comply with the Health Ministry’s directives, the number of hospitalised patients would have been 60 to 70 per cent lower. Hospitals should be only for those who need them,” Mr Budi later told reporters. 

Nearly half or 42 per cent of the 356 Covid-19 patients who died since mid-December, when the Omicron variant was first detected in the country, suffered other underlying conditions. Many of those who died, or 44 per cent, were elderly and 69 per cent were either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Mr Budi noted that three regions in Indonesia have recorded daily cases surpassing their respective peaks during the Delta wave. 

Jakarta had 14,600 daily new cases at the peak of the Delta wave but is reporting 15,800 now. Banten province, which had 3,900 then, has 4,800 now, and Bali, with 1,900 previously, has 2,000 now.

Indonesia is much better prepared for a third Covid-19 wave, with centralised isolation centres set up and ample supply of oxygen and medicine, as well as medical staff.

In January, the country received its first shipment of two types of Covid-19 antiviral pills – molnupiravir made by Merck, and paxlovid by Pfizer – and is set to start producing locally in April.

A telemedicine service in Jakarta, where patients can consult doctors and get free Covid-19 medicine delivered to their doorstep, will be expanded to Bandung, Semarang, Solo, Yogyakarta and Denpasar.

The world’s fourth-most populous nation has fully vaccinated 107 million people, with 160 million partially vaccinated as at the end of 2021. 

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