As of evening on March 31, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation of 270 million people, had reached 1,528, with 136 patients succumbing to the infection and 81 patients recovering from it. The first two confirmed coronavirus cases were announced on March 2, 2020.
Globally, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus, which first emerged in China’s town of Wuhan in December, 2019, have jumped to 803,313, with 39,014 persons dying of the disease and 172,657 persons making a complete recovery.
Given the rapid rise in infections, several parties have urged the Indonesian government to declare a nationwide or partial lockdown in certain regions vulnerable to the virus spread. They have referred to China’s success in containing the virus thanks to a strict lockdown in several cities.
However, those not in favor of a lockdown have cited India as an example, where a nationwide lockdown has triggered an exodus of migrants to their hometowns in rural regions, resulting in 22 deaths as the poor walked for hundreds of kilometers to reach their homes.
President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has argued large-scale physical distancing is more suitable than a lockdown for Indonesia to prevent COVID-19 transmissions.
"Some people have raised questions on why we did not choose the lockdown policy. I need to say that every country has a different character, culture, and discipline, so we did not choose that path," he stated while chairing a recent video meeting with Vice President Ma'ruf Amin, cabinet ministers, and 34 governors.
Jokowi confirmed he has received reports and analyses from Indonesian ambassadors worldwide, through the Foreign Affairs Ministry, on global responses and policies towards the coronavirus outbreak.
The head of state gave weightage to social distancing measures for Indonesia.
"Hence, the most pertinent way forward for our country is to adopt physical distancing measures. If we can do that, I am certain we can prevent the spread of COVID-19," he stated.
The president emphasized that being disciplined and decisive were paramount for social distancing measures.
Wiku Adisasmito, an expert on the Task Force for the Acceleration of COVID-19 Response, has supported the President’s statement.
“A lockdown has not been considered by the government because such a move would mean closing-off regions and that would have economic, social, and security implications. Therefore, the policy cannot be applied at this time," Professor Wiku told the press recently.
The government is trying sustain economic and social activities, and citizens must carry out their activities with modifications, he added.
"This needs to be done as there are still many people who are surviving on daily wages,” he explained.
“This fact has been one of the key considerations of the government in making policies," he added.
A lockdown would force people to stay at home completely, and that would affect the national economy, he noted.
Earlier, Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian had stated that the decision of imposing a lockdown on any region would come under the purview of the central government.
This is in accordance with Law Number 6 of 2018 on health quarantine, which stipulates that quarantine for an entire area comes under the absolute control of the central government, specifically the president of the Republic of Indonesia.
"We have spoken to the (Jakarta) governor about a regional quarantine since it is related to economic aspects. Hence, in line with Law No. 6 of 2018 on Health Quarantine, applying regional restriction and social distancing on a large scale comes under the authority of the central government," Karnavian told the press at the Jakarta City Hall recently.
This is because such a decision would have a direct bearing on the country's monetary and fiscal affairs. Hence, if the need for a lockdown is felt, regional leaders must coordinate the matter with President Joko Widodo and Chairman of the COVID-19 Response Task Force Doni Munarndo.
Deputy Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Jazilul Fawaid has also said he believes that the time is not right to impose a nationwide lockdown.
"(Lockdown) across Indonesia. I do not think it is necessary, as it will affect economic stability. Now, just reduce activities where people gather, such as in offices, campuses, meeting rooms, and schools," Fawaid noted in a statement.
A lockdown could trigger fresh panic, he noted.
He expressed concerns that the government and people would not be ready to face the risks arising from a lockdown, especially in Jakarta, which is the hub of the national economy and the center of governance.
In the meantime, to prevent transmission of COVID-19 cases, the government has banned foreign nationals from entering and transiting through the country. Security measures have been tightened at seaports, airports and border gates to stop foreigners from entering the country.
"The President has decided to strengthen the current policy. We have decided that visits and transits of all foreign nationals through the Indonesian territory would be temporarily stopped," Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi stated during a virtual press briefing after a meeting with President Joko Widodo on March 31, 2020.
The minister, however, has clarified that the restriction would not apply to work permit holders, diplomats, and other official visitors, though they would have to adhere to the health protocol.
"The new policy will be stipulated in a new Law and Human Rights Ministerial Regulation," Marsudi revealed.
Earlier, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan had stated that Jakarta should stop the movement of people in and out of city.
"Jakarta needs to shut down activities, both within and outside, and the arrival of people from within and outside Jakarta," he stated.
Jakarta had 720 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 30, with 48 people recovering and 76 dying of the infection.
As the capital city recorded the largest number of confirmed cases in the country, Governor Anies Baswedan has decided to extend the emergency response status until April 19. He has also urged the people to not leave the capital city for their hometowns to prevent the virus from spreading to more areas.
"Restrictions are ongoing, so the emergency response status has been extended from April 5 to April 19," he remarked.
With a population of about 10 million people, Jakarta used to be one of the world’s most polluted cities and was notorious for traffic jams. It is now witnessing cleaner air and empty streets downtown on account of people working and worshipping from home, students studying from home, and the closure of touristic attractions as well as amusement centers.
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