Indonesia rolls out tougher restrictions as virus cases soar
Thousands of soldiers and police took to the streets of the Indonesian island of Java and Bali on Saturday to impose new virus-fighting measures as the Southeast Asian nation battles an unprecedented wave of Covid-19 infections.
The country’s overwhelmed health system was on the brink of collapse as stranded hospitals turned away patients, forcing desperate families to seek oxygen tanks to treat the sick and dying at home.
Hundreds of checkpoints were set up as mosques, parks, shopping malls and restaurants were closed in the hard-hit capital Jakarta and Java.
More than 50,000 police and soldiers have been deployed to enforce restrictions in areas hosting more than 100 million people.
The rules also applied in Bali, where police patrolled closed seaside restaurants after the holiday island put aside plans to reopen to foreign tourists.
The fourth most populous country in the world has seen its daily workload more than quadruple in less than a month with a new Saturday record of 27,913 cases recorded in the past 24 hours and 493 official deaths – less than the record for 539 Friday deaths.
Indonesia’s tally to date stands at 2.25 million cases and 60,027 deaths, making it one of the worst-affected countries in Asia.
But that figure is widely viewed as a serious undercoverage due to weak testing and poor tracing measures.
“The stricter restrictions came too late,” said Maya Puspita Sari, a resident of Jakarta.
“Before, people who contracted Covid-19 were strangers, but now it’s also the people closest to me who are infected.
“The virus is getting so close and it’s terrifying.”
The highly infectious Delta variant of the virus, first identified in India and now found in at least 85 countries, was behind the recent outbreak, the health ministry said.
Experts had previously warned that millions of people traveling at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan could trigger an explosion of cases.
The streets of Jakarta were largely deserted on Saturday, but staying at home was not an option for many who live day to day in a country of nearly 270 million people.
“The measures need to be tougher, but think of little people like me,” said Paijo, 35, as he struggled to find buyers for the instant coffee packages hanging from his bicycle.
“Of course I’m scared … but it’s my only livelihood and I support my wife and two children.”
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, has long resisted strict lockdowns seen in other countries ravaged by the virus, saying they could contain Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
But this week, the government ordered all non-essential employees to work from home, while classes would only take place online.
The new measures are expected to last until July 20 in hopes of bringing daily infections below 10,000.
Health experts have warned that the tougher measures may not be enough.
The restrictions still allow often congested public transport to continue operating at reduced capacity.
Domestic travel by sea, plane and bus were also still open to people with at least one dose of the vaccine.
“How do you do physical distancing in public transport?” Indonesian epidemiologist Windhu Purnomo said.
“The government always puts the economy first by letting people move.”
A mass vaccination for 12-17 year olds took place at a football stadium in Jakarta on Saturday as Indonesia pushes to step up its attempt to vaccinate some 180 million people by the start of the year next.
So far, only about five percent of the country’s population have been fully immunized with two vaccines.