Indonesia Plans to Limit People’s Movement to Combat Virus

Arys Aditya and Harry Suhartono
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Indonesia Plans to Limit People’s Movement to Combat Virus

(Bloomberg) --

Indonesia may soon quarantine almost 30 million people in its capital and surrounding areas and limit people’s movement between regions to contain the spread of the coronavirus that’s killed more than 100 people in the world’s fourth-most populous nation.

President Joko Widodo told a cabinet meeting on Monday more decisive steps are “needed to break the chain of distribution of coronavirus.” Widodo is starting a “new stage of war against Covid 19, which is social distancing with health quarantine,” president’s spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said on Twitter.

Jokowi, as the president is known, didn’t spell out how authorities plan to enforce greater social distancing with the capital already being placed under an emergency status and schools, cinemas and entertainment spots closed for about two weeks. The government will consider a civil emergency only as the last resort, he said.

The plan to restrict people’s mobility follows a spike in confirmed cases, with the number of infections in Jakarta reaching 698, more than half the country’s total. The pandemic has killed 122 people, the highest in Southeast Asia. A lockdown will allow authorities to prevent an exodus of people from the capital city area to their hometowns or villages as jobs are lost or when the Muslim-majority nation celebrates the end of the fasting month in May.

The return of people in large numbers from places like Jakarta, the epicenter of the pandemic in Indonesia, to their homes can complicate ongoing efforts to halt the spread of the virus, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said in a statement Sunday.

An estimated 19.5 million people traveled to their hometowns from big cities like Jakarta last year and after the declaration of the emergency status, thousands of casual workers have already left for their homes, raising the specter of wider infections, the president said. Jokowi said adequate social safety net and income support measures were needed for daily wage earners, informal sector workers and street hawkers to prevent them from fleeing the city.

New Wave

There are fears a new wave of infections could soon hit the nation of almost 270 million people as authorities ramp up rapid testing of suspected cases using blood samples. Authorities had already declared a state of emergency until April 19 in Jakarta, asking companies to allow employees to work from home and businesses to operate only essential services to contain the virus spike.

Jokowi had argued against copying the lockdown model adopted by countries such as China and Malaysia, saying the character and culture of the country should be taken into account in deciding shutdowns, and instead called for voluntary physical distancing. But the surge in cases has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system, with authorities scrambling to procure enough personal protection equipment, hazmat suits and ventilators for medical workers.

The government temporarily banned exports of face masks and sanitizers, and allowed traders to import garlic and onions without permits to boost supplies ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. It has already ordered retailers to ration the sale of staples such as rice, cooking oils, sugar and instant noodles to prevent panic buying and hoarding.

Parliament Meeting

The Indonesian parliament, which held a plenary meeting on Monday, will discuss and amend laws required to deal with the fallout of the pandemic in the coming days, according to Speaker Puan Maharani. The lawmakers will prioritize steps needed to assist the government in handling the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, Maharani said.

“The design of the state budget is no longer in line with the assumptions used,” Maharani said in a statement. “Therefore, adjustments and changes are needed both in terms of revenue, expenditure and financing, which focus on handling coronavirus outbreak and overcoming the social and economic impact.”

Jokowi said last week he has been in talks with the parliament about changing the 2020 budget assumptions and increasing the legally bound fiscal deficit cap from 3% of gross domestic product to allow government to boost spending counter the impact of the pandemic.

(Updates with comment from president’s spokesman in second paragraph.)

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