Jakarta imposes partial lockdown as virus cases surge

Indonesia’s government has faced heavy criticism over its handling of the crisis and questions about the true number of deaths. (AP)
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Updated 10 April 2020

Jakarta imposes partial lockdown as virus cases surge

  • Violators face heavy fines and up to a year in jail for breaking the new rules
  • Jakarta city data showed some 776 suspected and confirmed victims had been buried in local cemeteries

JAKARTA: Soldiers and police hit the streets of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta Friday to enforce its toughest social-distancing rules yet as coronavirus infections surge and critics warn of a looming public-health disaster.
Violators face heavy fines and up to a year in jail for breaking the new rules, which include a ban on gatherings of more than five people, limiting restaurants to online delivery orders and reducing public transport.
Motorbike taxis seen everywhere in the megacity of some 30 million were banned from picking up passengers and residents were ordered to stay home.
“I’ve been checking my smartphone all day but no orders so far,” said Embari, a ride-hailing driver who goes by one name.
“I know drivers can’t pick up passengers but I was hoping for some food delivery calls.”
Mosques and other houses of worship were ordered to shut for at least the next two weeks — after millions continued to attend Friday prayers in the Muslim majority nation, despite calls to worship at home.
President Joko Widodo declared a state of emergency last month as coronavirus deaths in the world’s fourth most populous country jumped.
But he resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown fearing a collapse in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, where tens of millions eke out a living on poorly-paid, informal jobs.
Indonesia’s government has faced heavy criticism over its handling of the crisis and questions about the true number of deaths.
Officially, 280 people have died of the respiratory illness with 3,293 confirmed cases as of Thursday in the archipelago of more than 260 million.
That is the highest death toll for an Asian nation outside China.
But testing rates are among the lowest in the world and there are fears the number of dead could be much higher.
Jakarta city data showed some 776 suspected and confirmed victims had been buried in local cemeteries under COVID-19 protocols requiring bodies to be wrapped in plastic and quickly buried.
That is more than five times the official 142 dead in Jakarta, the epicenter of the outbreak in Indonesia.
Officials have admitted data collection among different jurisdictions is patchy and incomplete.
“The Indonesian government needs to ramp up testing to know the true extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the country,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities should also uphold the right to information and provide accurate statistics to the public.”
Indonesia’s spy agency has projected some 95,000 infections by June.
A bleak assessment by the University of Indonesia’s public health department warned that the country could see a death toll of more than 240,000 if testing and quarantines are not ramped up.


‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.

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