Indonesia introduces large-scale social distancing measures

Indonesia introduces large-scale social distancing measures

A social distancing measure is applied inside a commuter train (BPTJ)

Activities can be conducted at home or at a place that is not particularly crowded. They can be maximized by using online devices to connect with the outside world
University of Indonesia (UI), March 13, 2020, announced migrating from face-to-face class meetings to the online-study medium from respective homes of students until this semester ends in May 2020 to prevent the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

The next day, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan announced that all schools would be shut down for two weeks in Jakarta and urged students to study at home, as the number of coronavirus cases had tended to increase in the capital city.

Baswedan, the former education minister, also ordered the temporary closure of tourist attractions, such as the Ragunan Zoo, Ancol Dream Land, and Monas; halted Car-Free Day activities for 14 days; and urged Jakartans to exercise social-distancing measures by staying at home for at least two weeks.

“If it is not important and unproductive, please just stay at home. This needs to be done to prevent transmission,” he stated.

The next day, several other universities and regional governments followed the measures applied by the Jakarta administration. The government's offices and several private offices have also decided to apply the work-from-home mechanism.

As of March 15, Indonesia had reported 21 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the nationwide total count of infections to 117, while the number of deaths stayed at five, whereas at least eight coronavirus patients recovered and were discharged from hospital.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, the 76th case of COVID-19 in the country, is currently being treated in an isolation room at the Gatot Subroto Army Hospital in Jakarta. His condition is improving.

On March 11, three days before testing positive for COVID-19, the minister had attended a ministerial-level cabinet meeting led by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).

On March 15, Jokowi and his minister underwent COVID-19 testing.

"This morning, the tests were conducted for the ministers. For the results, inquire from the health minister," the president told the press at the Bogor Presidential Palace on March 15.

While the results of the tests were not known yet, the next day, the president chaired a meeting with his ministers via videoconference to discuss the acceleration of preventive efforts to check the spread of COVID-19 and maintain economic stability in the wake of the pandemic.

Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung shared a screen capture of the meeting through his official social media account on Monday in Jakarta.

Presidential spokesperson for Social Affairs Angkie Yudistia noted that the remote meeting was in accordance with the president's call for government officials and citizens to restrain from venturing outside, unless urgent.

"Activities can be conducted at home or at a place that is not particularly crowded. They can be maximized by using online devices to connect with the outside world," she remarked.

The ministers will also communicate with all levels of the ministry’s officials online to lower the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak.

"This is to demonstrate the government's seriousness in handling COVID-19 that has been categorized as a national disaster, so that its handling starts with prevention activities as early as possible," the presidential spokesperson remarked.

Starting March 16, protocols have been put in place to control the flow of people coming into the Presidential Palace. A disinfection chamber has also been installed for visitors entering the Presidential Palace Complex.

The Indonesian Government perceives the coronavirus outbreak as a non-natural national disaster and has decided to exercise large-scale self-distancing measures and tighten security at seaports, airports, and border gates to prevent the entry of people that might be carriers of COVID-19.

Achmad Yurianto, the government's spokesman on COVID-19, concurrently Director General of Disease Prevention and Control (P2P) of the Health Ministry, has urged people to desist from visiting public places if not necessary and apply social distancing measures.

A lockdown is, so far, not being considered to be applied in Indonesia, as it could affect the national economy, although the House of Representatives (DPR) had appealed to the government to engage experts in contemplating on imposing a lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.

"We call on the government to conduct regular evaluation by inviting experts to give serious thought to implementing a lockdown if necessary," Deputy House Speaker Sufmi Dasco Ahmad had remarked on March 16.

Moreover, Indonesian House Speaker Puan Maharani had urged the government to optimize the role of the COVID Quick Handling Task Forces in executing its integrated tasks to contain the coronavirus outbreak under the National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BNPB’s) coordination.

"The integrated tasks include raising awareness, conducting early detection, treating patients, handling impacts, and rehabilitating in accordance with the WHO protocol," she noted in a statement released on March 16.

The task force must immediately announce the steps entailed in handling the COVID-19 outbreak transparently to the public, including concrete steps to avert the spread of COVID-19 that the WHO has declared as a pandemic on March 11, she emphasized.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) had earlier urged Indonesia to scale up response mechanisms, including declaring a national emergency, to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter to President Jokowi on March 10, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom-Ghebreyesus wrote that every country needed to take robust measures designed to slow transmission and contain its spread.

“Unfortunately, we have seen undetected or under detected cases at the early stages of the outbreak result in significant rise in cases and deaths in some countries”, he wrote, without naming any country.

On March 13, Jokowi engaged in a telephonic conversation with Dr Tedros and promptly took follow-up actions, including forming a national task force to expedite efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19.

WHO, however, believed that handwashing, social distancing, and travel restrictions, while important, are not sufficient to fight the pandemic.

“We have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation, and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response,” Tedros said. It is “the combination” of approaches that matters.

“We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test, every suspected case,” he emphasized. Thus, people coming in close contact with those, who test positive, can be identified and tested as well.

Tedros said more tests are being produced to meet the demand, noting that the WHO had shipped almost 1.5 million tests to 120 countries.

Countries need to increase the number of labs, availability of test kits, and the number of people, who can conduct those tests, according to Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for WHO Health Emergencies Program.

According to the WHO data on COVID-19 per March 16, there were 167,511 confirmed cases and 6,606 deaths globally.  

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