Indonesia urges people to 'come out of homes' to boost economy amid Covid-19 pandemic

People at Dunia Fantasi amusement park in Jakarta on Sunday. Cities and provinces across Indonesia have gradually eased restrictive measures imposed as part of partial lockdowns. PHOTO: REUTERS
People at Dunia Fantasi amusement park in Jakarta on Sunday. Cities and provinces across Indonesia have gradually eased restrictive measures imposed as part of partial lockdowns. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Indonesian government has urged people to "come out of their homes" to boost the economy, with strict health safeguards in place, warning that there are limits to what state coffers can do amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Economic activity has been drastically reduced as many do not dare leave home, as they avoid meeting others physically," said Mr Budi Sadikin, head of the economic recovery task force in the government's Covid-19 response team.

"Meanwhile, virtual activities - in place of the usual physical contact - have not adequately fuelled the economy."

He added: "If we continue to remain in (partial) lockdowns, our fiscal space would no longer be sustained."

Mr Budi's appeal on Wednesday came as it appeared the country could be heading for a recession with a second quarter of negative growth.

Gross domestic product is likely to shrink by at least 3 per cent year on year in the second quarter.

Despite struggling to curb the spread of Covid-19, cities and provinces across the sprawling archipelago have gradually eased restrictive measures imposed as part of partial lockdowns.

The world's fourth-most populous country, with 270 million people, declared its first infections in early March.

Offices in the capital of Jakarta started to reopen in the first week of last month, with workers put on staggered rosters and going to the office on alternate days.

They have also been told to avoid crowding at meal times and in lifts.

Shopping malls were also allowed to reopen in mid-June.

Bali, Indonesia's tourism hot spot, is due to reopen today to domestic tourists and to foreign tourists possibly on Sept 11.

 
 
 
 

While stressing the need for strict safeguards, Mr Budi on Wednesday reassured people on going about their normal business.

"Doctors today know better how to treat patients, so chances of recovery have much improved.

"They have higher therapeutic standards and health protocol standards, and antiviral drugs are widely available," he said.

Government data shows the recovery rate of Covid-19 patients in the country rising to above 40 per cent this month, from 37 per cent last month, 22 per cent in May, 10 per cent in April and 4 per cent in March.

Epidemiologist Pandu Riono, who teaches at the faculty of public health at the University of Indonesia, remained sceptical about encouraging people to enter a "new normal", saying that this could be possible only with increased surveillance and strict health protocols - like mask-wearing, frequent hand washing and social distancing - in place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2020, with the headline 'Indonesia urges people to 'come out of homes' to boost economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe