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 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.


Philippines anti-terror campaign gets US boost

US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien (R) and Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin (L) pose with precision-guided munitions among other defence articles during a turnover ceremony at the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Manila on November 23, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 24 November 2020

Philippines anti-terror campaign gets US boost

  • Missiles will help armed forces fight Daesh-aligned groups in country’s south
  • Donald Trump pledged to provide the $18 million worth of missiles in a phone conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in April

MANILA: The Philippines on Monday received nearly $18 million worth of weapons systems from the US to help the government in its anti-terror fight, officials said.

Visiting US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien highlighted the transfer of precision-guided munitions to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the presence of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.
“On behalf of (American) President (Donald) Trump … I am pleased to transfer a package of precision-guided missiles, munitions ... to the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” O’Brien said.
Locsin, on behalf of the Philippines government, received the package which included 100 tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) 2A missiles, 12 improved target acquisition systems (ITAS), and 24 mark 82 (MK-82) bombs.
O’Brien said a US military plane delivered the smart weapons which will aid the Philippines military in its fight against Daesh-aligned groups operating in the southern part of the country.
“It’s a fight that’s been bravely undertaken by the men and women of the Philippines Armed Forces,” he added. According to O’Brien, the transfer underscored Washington’s strong and enduring commitment to its “critical alliance” with the Philippines.
“We hope these precision-guided missiles and munitions will help the AFP protect lives in Mindanao and end the needless suffering imposed by ISIS-East Asia,” he said.
The adviser added that America had been at the forefront in its fight against Daesh and that US forces in the Middle East had destroyed 100 percent of its physical caliphate.

HIGHLIGHT

US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said a US military plane delivered the smart weapons which will aid the Philippines military in its fight against Daesh-aligned groups operating in the southern part of the country.

“That was a caliphate the size of Great Britain extending across Syria and Iraq. It was destroyed under President Trump’s orders. Further, President Trump gave the orders for a daring nighttime raid that led to justice being brought to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader (of Daesh).
“Now, President Trump is standing with (Filipino) President (Rodrigo) Duterte as we combat (Daesh) here in Southeast Asia,” O’Brien said.
Locsin expressed gratitude for the weapons donated by the US. “This is the fulfillment of a promise made by US President Donald Trump to President Duterte during their phone call in April.
“We are looking forward to training on the use of these weapons with the best and undisputed military power in the world and the only one in history selflessly dedicated to the freedom and independence of other countries whatever threat in the world,” he said.
The foreign secretary pointed out that the “smart bombs” would further boost the AFP’s capabilities in “neutralizing identified or specific threats to national security, particularly in counterterrorism operations.”
Meanwhile, AFP military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, told media that “these smart munitions with such capability and precision will aid immensely the AFP in ridding the country of terrorist menaces.”
He said: “We may have been successful in counter-terrorism operations — most notably in Marawi — with ordinary munitions fitted in our legacy aircraft. But with the advent of these missiles and munitions, we are certain that they will greatly boost our campaigns and contribute to the global drive to fight and defeat terrorists.”
In a separate message, O’Brien added that the US welcomed Duterte’s recent decision “to extend the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).”
Locsin in a note to O’Brien earlier this month had conveyed the president’s decision to suspend the abrogation of the VFA by another six months, to enable both sides to find a “more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward.”
The VFA was scheduled to be terminated on Aug. 9, but the Philippines government in June suspended the move in light of “political and other developments in the region.”
The suspension was delayed for six months until December, but the Department of Foreign Affairs said it could be extended for half a year more.
“We look forward to the VFA continuing to facilitate our closer cooperation in combatting terrorism,” said O’Brien.
The VFA is the bilateral agreement that establishes the rules by which military personnel, vessels, and aircraft may enter the Philippines. It also stipulates how criminal offenses committed by US military personnel should be prosecuted.
Besides addressing the problem of terrorism, O’Brien said the US also hoped to expand its cooperation with the Philippines on a range of security challenges, such as disaster relief and maritime security.
He also welcomed recent statements by Duterte and Locsin at the US-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit, calling on all nations, “including a certain large nation in the neighborhood,” to respect international law in the South China Sea and reiterated the US’ commitment to defend the AFP if it came under armed attack in the disputed territory.
“As we approach the 70th anniversary of our Mutual Defense Treaty next year, we celebrate the strength of our important alliance, and we look forward to working hand-in-hand for generations to come. Together, the US and the Philippines will continue to ensure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” said O’Brien.
The US official also expressed condolences to the Philippines for the lives lost and devastation caused by super-typhoon Goni, and typhoon Vamco.