Indonesia Relaxes COVID-19 Restrictions Despite Deaths Remaining Near Record High

Arie Firdaus
Jakarta
2021-07-26
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Indonesia Relaxes COVID-19 Restrictions Despite Deaths Remaining Near Record High An Indonesian vendor in Jakarta waits for customers at a traditional market as the government eases emergency restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, July 26, 2021.
[Reuters]

Indonesia eased restrictions on businesses on Monday in a move criticized by health analysts as premature, as single-day deaths from COVID-19 remained near an all-time high of 1,500. 

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced on Sunday that a partial lockdown imposed early this month in Java, Bali and a few other areas would be extended for another week until Aug. 2, but gave some leeway allowing mainly small businesses to resume operations at limited capacity.

“There has been an improving trend in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of cases, BOR, and positivity rates have fallen in several provinces in Java,” Jokowi said, referring to bed occupancy rates.

Under the revised measures, restaurants with outdoor seating can offer dine-in services until 8 p.m. provided that each customer spends only 20 minutes.

Marketplaces selling non-essential goods can open until 3 p.m., at 50 percent capacity, while barbershops, laundromats, repair shops and other small businesses are allowed to open until 8 p.m.  

Easing restrictions “isn’t an appropriate move because epidemiologically, the situation is not yet under control,” Hermawan Saputra, a member of the Indonesian Public Health Expert Association (IAKMI), told BenarNews.

He said the COVID-19 positivity rate remained above 20 percent. Positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of the total number of people tested.

“This could result in a renewed surge in cases. Besides, the number of people tested in the last few days has continued to decline,” Hermawan said.

Indonesia recorded 28,228 COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed infections to nearly 3.2 million, according to government data on Monday. Another 1,487 fatalities overnight brought the virus-related death toll to 84,766.

Trubus Rahadiansyah, a public policy observer at Trisakti University in Jakarta, said the government’s decision to relax the restrictions was intended to mollify growing anger among the poor who have been severely affected.

“The government is aware that there is anger brewing among the citizens, so it decided to loosen the restrictions,” Trubus told BenarNews.

Parts of the country have seen clashes between small traders and police who were enforcing the lockdown, sometimes by confiscating goods, local media reported.

Indonesia’s highest single-day death toll from COVID-19, at 1,566, was recorded on July 23.

The rapid surge that started in June, blamed on the highly transmissible Delta variant, overwhelmed hospitals on Java and Bali islands, forcing many to turn away patients.

Before Monday, the seven-day average of new infections stood at more than 41,000, compared to an average about 50,000 the previous week. 

In addition, more than 2,300 people who tested positive for the coronavirus have died while self-isolating at home since last month, about half of them in Jakarta, according to LaporCOVID-19, a volunteer group that gathers pandemic data.

Alarming

Valerie Julliand, the United Nations resident coordinator for Indonesia, described the situation in the country as “alarming.”

“Indonesia introduced strict curbs on movement in Java and Bali at the beginning of July, and has since expanded those curbs, but it has not yet implemented a stringent movement restriction or lockdown at a national level, as other countries in a similar situation have done,” she told U.N. News over the weekend.

“It is difficult to say when we will reach the peak, but the numbers are still rising.”

Julliand blamed COVID-19 crises in India in May and more recently in Indonesia on their governments’ failures to impose total restrictions on movement.

While Indonesia has a relatively good supply of vaccines, efforts to get shots in arms have not rolled out quickly enough, she added.

As of Monday, 44.7 million (about 16 percent of the population) have received the first dose of a vaccine, of whom 18.1 million have been fully inoculated, according to the Health Ministry. Indonesia aims to vaccinate more than 200 million people by next year. 

“As sad as it is, Indonesia is certainly not the worst off – only 1.1 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one vaccination dose,” she said.

The country has received 130 million doses of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, along with several million doses made by AstraZeneca, Moderna and Sinopharm.

On Monday, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the nation expects to receive an additional 45 million vaccines from Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer in August.

Budi said the bulk of the vaccines imported by Indonesia had been distributed in Java and Bali because of the high number of cases in the regions.

Also on Monday, the Indonesian Hospital Association (Persi) said the bed occupancy rate for COVID-19 referral hospitals across the country had improved compared to the previous weeks.

As of Saturday, the hospital occupancy rate was at 69 percent, down from 81 percent to 90 percent during the recent surge, the association’s secretary general Lia Gardenia Partakusuma said.

But she warned the government against complacency.

“But statistics aside, we need to look at the real situation on the ground. The number of critically ill patients is still high,” Lia told BenarNews. “There are also patients who have been forced to self-isolate at home,” because hospitals are full.

Southeast Asia

The Delta variant is driving infections not just in Indonesia but elsewhere in Southeast Asia as well.

A record 207 virus-related deaths were reported on Monday in neighboring Malaysia, where infections since the pandemic began crossed 1 million on Sunday amid a record high 17,045 new cases.

Thailand on Monday crossed 500,000 cases, reporting a record high 15,376 new infections. With 87 new virus-related deaths, pandemic fatalities rose to more than 4,000.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca on Saturday wrote an open letter to Thais, “to explain what we are doing to help,” after it came to light that the local manufacturer would be able to supply more vaccines than the government had requested.

In September 2020, Thai health officials estimated the nation required only 3 million doses per month from the company, AstraZeneca noted in the letter sent to the government last month, according to the Thai Isra news agency.

“I want to assure you that for us, there is no higher priority than manufacturing vaccines that can protect you and your loved ones, as fast as possible. We will leave no stone unturned,” James Teague, managing director, AstraZeneca Thailand, said in the open letter.

“By the end of July, we will have delivered 11.3 million doses, as part of our overall commitment to deliver 61 million to Thailand. … We are also scouring the 20-plus supply chains in our worldwide manufacturing network to find additional vaccines for Southeast Asia, including Thailand.”

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