Regions around Jakarta set to follow Indonesian capital's move to reimpose semi-lockdowns amid Covid-19

A mock-up coffin of a Covid-19 victim on display on a sidewalk in Jakarta. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Regions that share a border with Jakarta are set to follow the Indonesian capital in reimposing strict restrictions, locally termed as PSBB, next week to deal with surging coronavirus infections.

In a coordination meeting a day after Jakarta's surprise announcement to "pull an emergency brake", an equivalent to Singapore's circuit breaker measures, Governor Anies Baswedan on Thursday (Sept 10) received support from Mr Ridwan Kamil, the governor of the capital's largest neighbour West Java province. Ministers in the same virtual meeting, however, criticised Mr Anies for not giving the national government a heads-up on this move.

"We will follow the Jakarta government's lead. If Jakarta reimposes PSBB, we should do the same," said a senior official who was at the coordination meeting, echoing Mr Ridwan's stand.

On Wednesday, Mr Anies said hospitals would reach full capacity by the second week of October if large-scale social restrictions, which had gradually been eased since June, were not reinstated.

The Jakarta government has come under fire for a lack of enforcement against restaurants, businesses that breach health protocols. Many restaurants did not comply with a rule to cap guests at 50 per cent seat capacity, but were not penalised for this.

Java - the country's most populous island and where Jakarta is located - accounts for 57 per cent of all infections in the country. Other provinces with the most Covid-19 cases are South Sulawesi and South Kalimantan.

Health and transportation experts have said that reimposing PSBB in Jakarta would be pointless if surrounding regions do not do the same as human traffic in and out of greater Jakarta remains high.

The Straits Times understands that hospitals have been receiving a noticeably higher number of coronavirus patients who are teenagers and above age 60 in the past week.

Some observers attributed this to family clusters triggered by a long weekend holiday around Indonesia's Independence Day in mid-August that saw many Jakartans leaving the city for a few days' break, some returning infected with the coronavirus.

Dr Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Australia's Griffith University, said Mr Anies' decision was bold and based on data. He called on other administrations across Java to also impose PSBB in order to have effective results, The Jakarta Post reported on Thursday.

"Other areas in Java must do what is being done in Jakarta, especially those with an immense burden on healthcare (systems) and a high number of deaths," Dr Dicky said.

Dr Firman Noor, head of Indonesian Institute of Sciences' political research centre, said cities with high cases such as Surabaya, East Java, should reimpose curbs.

"It's pointless to believe things would get better. The economy is not improving, and more people are getting sick and dying," he told The Straits Times.

The Jakarta administration revealed earlier this week that the occupancy rate of isolation rooms at the city's 67 Covid-19 referral hospitals has reached 77 per cent, and the rate for intensive care units has hit 83 per cent. Indonesia first announced coronavirus infections in early March and the earliest cases were all in Jakarta.

The hospitals will reach full capacity by Sept 17, but the authorities are planning to increase capacity by about 20 per cent as they engage more private hospitals to treat coronavirus patients. This will increase isolation beds from 4,053 to 4,807.

But without strict efforts to curb the spread of the virus, Jakarta will reach this new capacity by the second week of October.

"It is like we have been running a marathon since March; we are exhausted. This is not to be underestimated. The situation is not under control," Dr Erlina Burhan, a pulmonologist from Persahabatan Hospital, was reported by Reuters as saying.

Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto said on Thursday that a balance must be struck between pressing the gas pedal and the brake in deciding policies to fight Covid-19.

He stressed that hitting the brakes has taken a toll on economic sentiment, as reflected by the plunge in the country's stock market. The Jakarta Composite Index fell 5 per cent on Thursday.

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