Jakarta mulls over reimposing stricter social restrictions as coronavirus cases surge

The country's capital city reported 281 new cases on July 13.
PHOTO: Reuters

JAKARTA - Jakarta, Indonesia's first epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak, is mulling whether to reimpose restrictions it previously eased as the daily number of new cases hits new records.

The country's capital city reported 281 new cases on Monday (July 13), making a total of 14,797 cases and 697 deaths so far.

The figure was among the city's record daily highs since the outbreak hit, the fifth-largest after 404 on Sunday, 378 on Saturday, 357 on Wednesday and 284 on Thursday.

The latest data came a day after Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said the city might consider tightening its large-scale social restrictions (PSBB).

Jakarta has gradually relaxed restrictions since June 4 in the hope of easing economic suffering, with businesses and offices reopening under new health protocols. It has also reopened public green spaces and outdoor tourist destinations.

"If this continues, we may have to return to (social restrictions)… do not let this situation reach the point where we have to pull the emergency brake," Mr Anies said on Sunday (July 12).

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The tighter restrictions would see a restoration of stricter PSBB, which had allowed only eight essential sectors to operate during the pandemic.

"If that happens, we all have to go back home, and economic, religious and social activities will be halted," Mr Anies said.

He acknowledged the persistent outbreak in Jakarta, saying that while most of the new cases were the result of the administration's massive "active case finding" efforts, the city's rate of positive cases - the number of people who test positive divided by the total number tested - have caused concern.

Jakarta's weekly positivity rate had consistently been below 5 per cent since the start of June, in line with one of the World Health Organisation's requirements for regions seeking to enter the so-called "new normal".

But the rate on Saturday was recorded at 7.1 per cent and at 9.6 per cent on Sunday, with a weekly average of 5.7 per cent last week.

"That is why I want to tell all Jakartans: do not take this lightly. Do not feel like we are free of the Covid-19 outbreak," Mr Anies said.

Jakarta authorities said 45.2 per cent of the total cases were patients taking tests in hospitals, 38.4 per cent were people taking tests in residential areas, including people living in densely populated areas and areas with high incidence rates, and 6.8 per cent in wet markets, including among vendors.

With the outbreak showing no signs of abating, Mr Anies warned the public to maintain their daily routines with extra caution in vulnerable hot spots: public transit and wet markets.

The increasing number of daily cases in Jakarta, one out of eight provinces with similar trends, has gained the attention of President Joko Widodo, who on Monday reportedly said that reimposing restrictions had always been on the table.

Hermawan Saputra from the Indonesian Public Health Expert Association criticised Jakarta's easing of restrictions on activities not directly related to fulfilling primary needs.

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Jakarta's recent move to reopen tourism spots and weekly events like the Car-Free Day was unnecessary, Mr Hermawan said.

Hariadi Wibisono, the Indonesian Epidemiologists Association chairman, said the Jakarta administration should not hesitate to reimpose restrictions if necessary, saying such a U-turn "is part of decision making and not a display of inconsistency because every decision needs evaluation".

Epidemiologist Pandu Riono from the University of Indonesia's School of Public Health called for cities in Greater Jakarta to implement strict health protocols as many commuters might carry the virus without symptoms.

The experts said the government should also involve local figures in promoting the importance of implementing health protocols and in reaching out to the wider public to prevent misconceptions that mask-wearing and social distancing were no longer needed.

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