Traffic Congestion Returns to Jakarta as Indonesia Reopens Amid Pandemic

Ronna Nirmala
Jakarta
2020-06-08
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200608_ID_Commuter_NewNormal_1000.jpg Commuters line up for trains bound for Jakarta at a station in Bogor as Jakarta loosens a partial lockdown despite COVID-19 cases mounting in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, June 8, 2020.
AFP

Traffic congestion returned to the Indonesian capital on Monday as a crush of commuters went back to their workplaces as businesses began to reopen after authorities eased restrictions to curb COVID-19.

Lines of passengers waiting to board trains to Jakarta were seen in the city’s suburbs while ubiquitous motorcycle-taxis were allowed to carry passengers again after being restricted to food deliveries only during the partial lockdown. It has been relaxed since Friday as Southeast Asia’s largest economy begins to reopen gradually after being hit hard by ripple effects from the pandemic.

“So far the number of public transport passengers is still low. Traffic is more congested because many use private vehicles,” Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan said.

Public transportation operators are allowed to carry only half their normal load of passengers during the transition period, which will last through June 30.

Last week, the Jakarta administration began easing the large-scale social restrictions, which were imposed on April 10, allowing people to perform group prayers and other activities amid signs that the coronavirus curve was flattening in the capital region. Social distancing rules and the requirement to wear masks at all times remain in place.

Restrictions, however, remain in some Jakarta neighborhoods that have been designated as red zones because of high rates of infections. Motorcycle-taxis are not allowed to operate in those areas.

On Monday, the government confirmed 847 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the national tally to 32,033, said Achmad Yurianto, spokesman for the national coronavirus task force.

Thirty-two new deaths brought the number of fatalities to 1,883, he told a news conference.

Indonesia sits behind Iran (8,351), India (7,473), China (4,638) and Pakistan (2,067) among Asian countries with the most fatalities from the virus that was detected in Wuhan, China, according to the latest data gathered by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

So far, the Indonesian capital has recorded 8,121 infections, with 529 deaths. Jakarta remains the area with the most COVID-19 cases in the country, but Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya, has seen a surge in new infections in recent weeks. The total number of cases detected in Surabaya reached 6,313 as of Monday, officials said.

Despite the growing cases, the greater Surabaya area will gradually reopen starting on Tuesday, the secretary of the East Java provincial administration, Heru Tjahjono said.

“There will be a 14-day transition period,” CNN Indonesia quoted Heru as saying.

An official checks the body temperature of passengers at Jakarta’s Sudirman Station, as the Indonesian capital loosened the two-month partial lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, June 5, 2020. [Afriadi Hikmal/BenarNews]
An official checks the body temperature of passengers at Jakarta’s Sudirman Station, as the Indonesian capital loosened the two-month partial lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, June 5, 2020. [Afriadi Hikmal/BenarNews]

New optimism

The partial reopening of the economy has brought new optimism to the markets, said Piter Abdullah, executive director of the Center for Indonesian Economic Reform.

“The government’s decision to start loosening the restrictions, or the so-called new normal, is giving hope and contributing to market confidence, although the rise is not yet significant,” Piter told BenarNews.

On Monday, the rupiah strengthened in value against the U.S. dollar by 217.5 points, according to Bloomberg.

Nonetheless, it will take time for the Indonesian economy to recover from the pandemic’s knock-on effects, said the executive director of the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF), a private think-tank.

“Economic recovery is a long process,” Tauhid Ahmad told BenarNews.

Tauhid said the government would still have to prioritize funding for the health sector to ensure that the coronavirus curve gets flattened.

An epidemiologist on the public health faculty at the University of Indonesia, Pandu Riono, warned that coronavirus cases could surge again during the transition period.

“The government must continue to educate the public,” Pandu told BenarNews. “Everyone who leaves the house must wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands. It’s simple, but difficult to do in practice.”

Stimulus package

Meanwhile, a deputy speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), Syarief Hasan, urged the government to be transparent about the use of funds for a national economic recovery.

“Now, 677.2 trillion rupiah has been set aside from the state budget. But have the funds been evenly distributed?” he told BenarNews.

Last week, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati announced that the government was expanding a COVID-19 economic stimulus package to 677.2 trillion rupiah (U.S. $48.6 billion), up from a package of 641.17 trillion announced in April.

Sri Mulyani said the bulk of the funds, 203.9 trillion rupiah ($14.6 billion) would go to social security programs while the health sector would get 87.55 trillion rupiah ($6.2 billion).

Sri Mulyani said the 2020 state budget deficit was expected to widen to 6.34 percent of gross domestic product, exceeding the government’s target of 5.07 percent at the start of the year.

“We will continue to maintain this deficit carefully in line with the president's instructions. We will use the lowest risk funding sources and the lowest costs,” Sri Mulyani told reporters.

Sri Mulyani also said last week that the economy could contract 0.4 percent as a result of the pandemic.

Gross domestic product grew 2.97 percent in the first quarter, the slowest pace since 2001.

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