Indonesia to tighten curbs to prevent holiday spike in Covid-19 cases

Level 3 restrictions also require malls, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets to open at half capacity. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With the threat of a Covid-19 third wave looming ahead of the year-end festivities, the government is gearing up to take another crack at preventing a holiday-fuelled spike in cases by imposing the second-most stringent level of the four-tiered public activity restrictions (PPKM) in all provinces.

Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy, who announced the plan on Wednesday (Nov 17), said that applying level 3 restrictions nationwide would help to better regulate public mobility.

The details will be published next week in the form of a Home Ministry instruction, which will be effective starting from Dec 24 until Jan 2, 2022.

"(Every region) will follow the same nationally. (The government) has come to an agreement that the rules (of PPKM level 3) will be applied in and outside Java and Bali," Mr Muhadjir said in a press release on Wednesday. Under the planned regulation, activities synonymous with New Year festivities, such as fireworks, parades and events that would attract large crowds, will be completely prohibited, he said.

Religious services, including Christmas services, according to Mr Muhadjir, would also return under the level 3 restrictions, which allow houses of worship to operate at half capacity.

Level 3 restrictions also require malls, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets to open at half capacity, while public parks and facilities, as well as other places that attract large crowds, are instructed to close.

It is unclear whether or not domestic travel requirements for the upcoming year-end holidays will change.

Currently, fully vaccinated airline passengers to and from Java and Bali are required to present negative antigen test results.

This also applies to long-distance travellers who use trains, buses and boats. Air travellers who have only received one dose of a two-shot vaccine currently need to present negative polymerase chain reaction test results taken three days before the flight at the latest.

Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman from Griffith University said that taking into account data and various indicators of the spread of Covid-19 in each region, imposing a uniform level of restrictions across the country for the coming year-end holidays might not be an effective solution for minimising transmission.

Some regions, he said, might need stricter restrictions than others.

"With the current multi-tiered PPKM system in place and increasing vaccination rates, I think we are heading in the right direction.

Customers enjoy their lunch at an outlet of Burgreens in Jakarta on Sept 23, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

"And now the government can't just arbitrarily decide which levels to be imposed nationwide. They need to consider the (epidemiological) data," Dr Budiman said on Thursday.

The government should focus on increasing PCR testing nationwide and making it more accessible for the public, he said, because without enough coronavirus surveillance, it would be difficult to accurately adapt mitigation measures, making a third wave of infections inevitable.

"Whether it's level 3 or 4 (of the PPKM restrictions), the essence should be the 3Ts (testing, tracing, treatment) and vaccination. If they decide to go with level 3 but tracing and testing are lagging, it will not work," he said.

After close to two years of battling Covid-19, Indonesia has gone through a couple of extended holiday periods, with each period causing an increase in the number of cases.

The first troubling holiday period was the 2020 year-end holidays, after which the country experienced its first Covid-19 spike.

At the time, the government's strategy was reliant on public mobility curbs, such as closures along the country's arterial roads.

Once vaccines became available early this year, the government instead relied on its inoculation drive as its main policy for handling the pandemic.

However, the government's failure to anticipate the high mobility caused by the Idul Fitri holiday in mid-May, with hordes of Indonesians going on mudik (exodus) despite an intercity travel ban at the time, led to the country's second wave of infections.

The second wave peaked at 56,000 new daily cases and 2,000 daily deaths in July. With Covid-19 figures once again dropping to the low three digits over the past week and restrictions eased, the government again put vaccination to the forefront of its third wave prevention strategy, aiming to have the entire adult population getting their first dose by the end of the year.

It also plans to start administering booster shots next year.

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