Indonesia to launch emergency COVID curbs

·3-min read

Indonesia will bring in emergency measures running until July 20 aimed at containing a huge spike in coronavirus cases that has strained the country's medical system, President Joko Widodo says.

There has been a near vertical climb in virus cases in the world's fourth most-populous nation in recent weeks, prompting health experts to warn the outbreak could be as bad as India's devastating second wave if tighter measures are not introduced.

"With co-operation from all of us and the grace of God, I'm certain that we can suppress COVID-19 transmission and restore people's lives quickly," said the president, who is usually known as Jokowi, as he announced the stricter measures.

The measures, which will start on Saturday, aim to halve the current number of daily virus cases to below 10,000, and include tighter restrictions on movement, a ban on restaurant dining, and closure of non-essential offices.

They will be applied on the most populous island of Java and the tourist island of Bali.

Further details will be announced by Indonesia's minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, later on Thursday.

Grappling with the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has reported a series of record daily COVID-19 cases since mid-June, with the 21,807 new infections on Wednesday its biggest daily increase so far.

Indonesia has recorded 2,178,272 cases overall, among the highest in Asia, and 58,491 deaths.

Jokowi had been reluctant to bring in measures that might hit the economy. News of the curbs wiped out gains on Indonesia's main stock index that had earlier been up as much as 0.9 per cent.

The highly transmissible Delta variant that caused a spike in cases in India in April and May, overwhelming healthcare facilities and swamping crematoriums, is spreading in Indonesia.

Hospitals across the crowded, main island of Java are being pushed to the brink.

In Jakarta, some emergency wards have been moved to tents erected in hospital car parks to free up isolation rooms, while residents have formed queues to buy oxygen tanks for relatives being treated at home.

The bed occupancy rate in the city's hospitals hit 93 per cent this week, with hospitals across Java also edging toward full capacity.

Public health experts have questioned whether the proposed measures go far enough.

"The current proposals are 'emergency' by name only, but they don't respond to an emergency situation," said Dr Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Queensland.

Other experts questioned how effective the selective emergency measures would be.

"If the government is half-hearted it will just remain the same," said Defriman Djafri, an epidemiologist at Andalas University in Padang on Sumatra island.

What was needed, he said, was: "Two weeks total lockdown, no outside activities and no contact, people must stay at home".

Rather than implement a national lockdown, Indonesia has instead opted for localised restrictions in designated "red zones", a move the president previously said was designed to avoid "killing" the economy.

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