Indonesia moved to gently ease restrictive measures in its capital of Jakarta yesterday, around two months after the coronavirus seized the country to infect more than 28,800 people, kill over 1,700 and place sprawling regions under partial lockdowns.
Over the next few weeks called the "transition phase", workplaces, places of worship, shopping centres and recreational venues will gradually be allowed to open with strict health guidelines, which include operating at 50 per cent capacity and ensuring people maintain a 1m distance from one another.
Places of worship can open their doors today, workplaces, restaurants and standalone retail shops on Monday, markets and malls on June 15, and recreational venues on June 20. Children and the elderly, as well as pregnant women and the sick, must still stay at home.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan told a press conference yesterday that positive cases and deaths in the capital have been decreasing.
He said: "We have imposed social restrictions, which required strength, discipline and patience. It's not an easy thing to do, but we managed to achieve it together. Our collective effort has helped to ease the infection rate."
With what he called an "emergency brake policy", the city administration can reinstate the restrictions should there be a spike in cases and fresh outbreaks.
Instead of a nationwide lockdown, the Indonesian government has opted for voluntary, large-scale social distancing measures, locally known as PSBB, by regional administrations to avoid social unrest and protect the economy.
Four provinces and 26 cities and regencies adopted these measures in varying degrees, the first being Jakarta on April 10. The deadline to lift these restrictions in the city of more than 11 million people was extended twice to June 4.
Mr Anies said PSBB would remain in force as Jakarta moved towards "a safe, healthy and productive condition". A review at the end of the month will decide if the curbs should be lifted totally, he added.
Indonesia was among the last countries in South-east Asia to announce positive cases in early March. The ensuing restrictions battered businesses, left millions jobless, and threatened a gross domestic product contraction of 0.4 per cent for the year in the worst-case scenario, leaving the government with little choice but to lift curbs despite rising cases and deaths, with its fatalities being the highest in Asia outside China and India.
In recent weeks, the government had indicated that it would gradually reopen the economy, especially labour-intensive sectors, and establish a so-called "new normal" until a vaccine is found.
President Joko Widodo told a Cabinet meeting last Friday that national priorities from economy to health to education must continue even in the face of the pandemic. "This means we must focus on controlling Covid-19, but strategic agendas that have a major impact on people's lives must not be forgotten," he said.
Since May 26, some 340,000 police and military personnel have been deployed to four provinces to ensure people adhere to strict health protocols such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing.
The government's handling of the pandemic had attracted public criticism.
In a survey by Jakarta-based pollster Indo Barometer, nearly 54 per cent of 400 respondents polled between May 12 and 19 in seven provinces in Indonesia, including the hardest-hit provinces of Jakarta, East Java and West Java, said they were dissatisfied with the government's response to the crisis.
Among other things, they cited late action in mitigating the outbreak, inconsistent policies and slow distribution of social aid.
Jakarta's new normal
SOCIAL AND WORK LIFE
Standalone retail shops, workplaces and restaurants may reopen on Monday, but the number of people will be limited to half the usual capacity of the venue.
Markets, malls or any shop operating in one central location may reopen on June 15 and operate on alternate days. Workers should go to the office on alternate days and work on a staggered schedule, to avoid crowding at meal times and in lifts.
Places of worship may reopen today but can accommodate only 50 per cent of their usual numbers.
Staff are to ensure that worshippers maintain a safe distance and sanitation facilities are installed at entrances and exits. Special events such as weddings are not allowed at places of worship.
All public transportation will return to operate on its normal schedule, but passengers on each trip will be limited to no more than 50 per cent of the usual capacity.
EDUCATION Schools remain closed until the coronavirus situation improves.
Despite a ban on the annual exodus known as mudik when city dwellers return to their hometowns for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which fell on May 24 this year, lax enforcement in the country triggered outbreaks.
The virus has since spread farther from Jakarta, the epicentre of the outbreak, to other parts of Java, with East Java province emerging as a new hot spot with fresh clusters.
But for some Indonesians, whose jobs involve working outdoors, the easing of measures was welcome.
Jakarta resident Suryono, an odd-job labourer, said he was excited to receive his first job order, after many quiet weeks, to install a septic tank at a private residence.
The 52-year-old got to work earlier this week, before the curbs were lifted, as he needed the money to make ends meet. He told The Straits Times: "As long as we don't join a crowd, it should be safe. People shouldn't be that worried.
"I phoned my regular clients (to ask) if they had any job for me. Some said yes, but they preferred to wait until the restrictions are officially lifted."