Jakarta returns to strict ‘beginning of pandemic’ COVID-19 measures as cases surge

Indonesian people queue to get on a bus at the Blok M terminal in Jakarta on September 10, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2020

Jakarta returns to strict ‘beginning of pandemic’ COVID-19 measures as cases surge

  • Country’s economy already reeling from outbreak impact

JAKARTA: The Jakarta governor’s sudden decision to reimpose coronavirus-related restrictions amid surging infection figures and a looming collapse of the healthcare system has been welcomed by medical workers, but is already facing some opposition from the central government.

Governor Anies Baswedan on Wednesday announced that the city was returning to large-scale social restrictions from the beginning of next week “just like it was at the beginning of the pandemic,” as its already overburdened intensive care units would be forced to stop receiving patients otherwise.

According to data from the Indonesian Medical Association, Jakarta is one of the country's region’s where COVID-19 fatalities among doctors are the highest.

“The governor made the right decision that we have to pull the emergency brake, and this is also shock therapy for residents who have been flouting health protocols,” Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News on Friday. “We have seen the case positivity rate of more than 10 percent in the past three weeks, closer to its 14 percent highest in April.”

Indonesia on Friday reported 3,737 new cases of COVID-19, with 964 in Jakarta, bringing the national tally to 210,940.

More than half of the cases are on Indonesia’s most populated island of Java, where Jakarta is located. While the country’s infection curve is already rising sharply, there are concerns that the actual number of cases in the country of about 270 million is much higher.

Irma Hidayani, public health consultant and founder of Lapor COVID-19 (Report COVID-19), said the group had received information that infection clusters at offices were unreported.

New infection clusters have also emerged at industrial zones located in Jakarta’s satellite cities. The World Health Organization (WHO) in its Wednesday report said that 541 cases were recorded at 22 factories in Bekasi, an industrial area on the outskirts of Jakarta.

As most of Jakarta’s surrounding regions, like Bekasi, are administratively part of West Java province, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil announced on Thursday that he would impose community-based social restrictions in selected regions.

“Jakarta and its satellite cities are Indonesia’s economic hub, therefore its measures to respond to the outbreak serve as the benchmark for other regions,” Nuri Ikawati, a researcher at the Institute for Demographic and Poverty Studies, told Arab News. “The high movement of people going into and out of Jakarta is also a factor that increases imported cases in other regions.”

She added that the plan required the central government’s support to go as smoothly as it should. But the government has already opposed some of Jakarta's restrictions as they could further hit the country’s economy.

As the capital city's governor announced that people should return to working from home, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto said a day later that government offices would be functioning as normal, while the private sector should implement a flexible working arrangement, keeping some employees at the office and allowing some to work from home.

He also contradicted Baswedan's statement that Jakarta was facing a shortage of hospital beds and said the government would be using three- and two-star hotels in the city as isolation wards for people testing positive.

But his statement has not convinced experts.

“It would not be enough to just assign hotels as emergency hospital wards,” Ikawati added. “We would also need supporting healthcare infrastructure and medical workers, but we already have a low doctor-to-patient ratio.”

Afghan security forces confirm killing of top Al-Qaeda leader

Updated 26 October 2020

Afghan security forces confirm killing of top Al-Qaeda leader

  • Egyptian national Abu Muhsin Al-Masri was on the US most wanted terrorists list
  • Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) said he was killed in a special operation in Ghazni province

KABUL: Afghan security forces have confirmed the killing of a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Ghazni province, eastern Afghanistan, prompting the country's president to accuse the Taliban of having links with the terrorist network.

Egyptian national Abu Muhsin Al-Masri, alias Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, was on the US list of most wanted terrorists. The US issued a warrant for his arrest in December 2018.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) in a tweet late on Saturday said that Al-Masri was killed “in a special national security operation.”

Following the announcement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused the Taliban of having links with the terrorist group.

"The killing of this significant leader of Al-Qaeda's terroristic network proves that there is still the threat of terrorism and Taliban have ties with terrorists," he said on Sunday afternoon.

According to NDS sources in Kabul and Ghazni, he was one of the most senior leaders of Al-Qaeda.

“Al-Masri was one of the most senior Al-Qaeda authorities and was a financial and logistical facilitator of the network and had meaningful ties with Taliban,” the source in Kabul said on condition of anonymity.

He added that an Afghan affiliate of Al-Masri was arrested during the raid.

An NDS officer in Ghazni said that Al-Masri was killed in Andar district, where scores of foreign militants have settled in recent years and have been “protected by the Taliban.”

The Taliban deny the claim.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News that Al-Qaeda has had “no ties with the Taliban” since the historic US-Taliban peace accord in late February. In accordance with the deal, the Taliban pledged to sever ties with foreign militants and deter them from using territories under the group’s control.

The US invaded Afghanistan and in late 2001 ousted the Taliban government, which refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders accused of being behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that killed 3,000 Americans.

The terrorist network has been decimated over the years, but US officials believe its fighters are still operating in Afghanistan and some have deep ties with the Taliban.

Al-Masri’s reported killing comes a year after the NDS announced that in a joint raid with US troops it had killed Asim Omar, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. Omar was reportedly killed in southern Helmand province — a Taliban stronghold.

A former Afghan spy master, Rahumatullah Nabil, in a tweet said that Al-Masri and some other members of Al-Qaeda were frequently traveling between Ghazni and other parts of Afghanistan and a tribal region in Pakistan’s north in recent months.

The head of the US National Counter-Terrorism Center, Chris Miller, confirmed Al-Masri’s death in a statement, saying that his “removal” was “a major setback to a terrorist organization that is consistently experiencing strategic losses facilitated by the United States and its partners.”

According to Afghan analysts, however, a replacement for Al-Masri will soon be found within the terrorist group’s ranks.

“The killing will have some impact on the network’s activities and the war in Afghanistan, but not a drastic one as new leaders will jump up to fill the gap,” security analyst Ahmad Saeedi told Arab News.

The development comes as an uptick in deadly violence has been observed in Afghanistan despite ongoing talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar to yield a lasting peace and end decades of conflict in the war-torn country. 

At least 20 people were killed at an educational center Kabul on Saturday, hours after a roadside bomb killed nine civilians east of Kabul. Officials blamed the Taliban for the roadside attack.