Jakarta may pull ‘emergency brake’ on eased restrictions

Special Jakarta may pull ‘emergency brake’ on eased restrictions
People wearing protective face masks attend mass on the first day of the reopening of a church after government restrictions were eased, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 12, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 July 2020

Jakarta may pull ‘emergency brake’ on eased restrictions

Jakarta may pull ‘emergency brake’ on eased restrictions
  • Jakarta and East Java are the two provinces most affected by the outbreak of coronavirus

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday urged officials to step up testing, tracing, and treatment of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country’s worst-hit provinces.

The move followed an uptick in virus infections in the capital Jakarta and the emergence of new clusters in two military schools in West Java.

“Our main concern is to ensure that testing, tracing, and treatment remain a priority,” Widodo said during a Cabinet meeting.

And the governor of Jakarta warned that authorities could “pull the emergency brake” on easing restrictions if the number of cases in the city continued to rise.

Indonesia reported 1,282 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the national total to 76,981, with 3,656 deaths. Jakarta and East Java are the two provinces most affected by the outbreak with overall cases of 14,979 and 16,877, respectively.

On Sunday, Jakarta recorded its highest one-day spike with 404 new confirmed cases, it being the third time the city had declared a record spike of cases in the space of a week.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan said that although the surge was a result of ramped up active case findings, it was also a warning to city residents who had resumed business and social activities after restrictions were eased in compliance with health protocols.

The governor added that since the beginning of June, the positivity rate of conducting 1,000 tests per 1 million of the population per week in the city had been consistently below 5 percent, as per the World Health Organization’s requirements to reopen the economy.

Sunday’s positivity rate doubled to 10.5 percent, with 66 percent of those confirmed with COVID-19 being asymptomatic.

“This is why we have to be really careful. We should not take this lightly. Do not think that we are free from the pandemic,” Baswedan said in a statement on the administration’s official YouTube channel.

“If this situation continues, we may have to pull the emergency brake policy and ... halt again all economic, religious, and social activities.”

Baswedan has extended the transition phase of large-scale social restrictions in the city until July 16.

“Given the current situation, I would suggest that we freeze the easing of restriction at the current condition and we do not move to the next transition phase to relax more restrictions,” Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia told Arab News.

He said that based on modeling conducted by the university, infection rates in the country would continue to spike until October with 4,000 confirmed cases in a day, but also cautioned that the crisis might not be over until the end of the year.

“It is difficult to make any estimation with so many uncertain variables,” he added.

Jakarta has one of the highest polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing rates in the country with at least 26,527 people tested per 1 million of population. In contrast, the national testing rate is 3,394 tests per 1 million people, according to Achmad Yurianto, spokesman for the national COVID-19 task force.

Two military schools in West Java have emerged as new clusters with more than 1,300 positive cases detected among cadets. Some of their family members were also confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 during the past week after two cadets tested positive while seeking medical treatment for unrelated sickness.

During a visit to the schools last week Army Chief of Staff Gen. Andika Perkasa said that most of the infected cadets were asymptomatic.

Riono said: “The problem is not about strict social-distancing measures. It lies with people not complying to health protocols, and they do not seem to understand the situation remains risky. Maybe because we have been addressing the situation incorrectly with the new-normal term, so people think that we are back in the normal situation.”

Yurianto said that the term was misleading, and the government would instead use the phrase “adapting new habits” to prevent the public from misunderstanding the situation in which the outbreak continued to spread.