JAKARTA: Indonesia’s densely populated island of Java and the neighboring resort island of Bali went under partial lockdown on Saturday to fight a surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, exacerbated by the more virulent and highly contagious delta variant.
As part of the restrictions, in place until July 20, all employees of nonessential businesses will have to work from home, while shopping malls, places of worship, and public spaces will be shut down, and indoor dining banned.
Travel by air or train will be allowed only if passengers provide a negative antigen test result and vaccination certificates.
Indonesia’s capital Jakarta is one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with all five of its municipalities listed among the more than 40 red zones where stringent mobility restrictions have been imposed, with police setting up road blocks at dozens of locations across the city and along borders with its suburbs.
“We have set up 63 checkpoints across and surrounding Jakarta to reduce people’s activity in the city. We are restricting the movement of people with noncritical purposes,” Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus told Arab News on Saturday.
In recent weeks, Indonesia’s daily positive rate has multiplied from the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 5 percent.
It peaked at 25.1 percent on Friday amid reports of overloaded hospitals turning away infected patients, and patients dying during home isolation or after failing to receive proper treatment.
On Saturday, Indonesian health authorities registered 493 deaths and a record-breaking 27,913 cases, taking the total infection tally to more than 2.2 million since the outbreak last year.
The total fatality count stood at 60,027 as of Saturday.
Despite the grim situation in Java and Bali, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that the conditions in other areas of the sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands remained under control.
“We monitor the situation daily using the WHO’s new pandemic guidelines. We have indicators for every province and down to the district level,” Sadikin said during a media briefing with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club on Friday.
“So far, outside Java (and Bali), the situation is still under control. That is why we only impose mobility restrictions on Java and Bali ... Not all cities in Java are affected; it is only concentrated in certain epidemiological areas,” he added.
On enquiring when Indonesia hoped to flatten the curve in Java, Sadikin said: “My answer is, to be honest, and to be humble, I don’t know. Even many epidemiologists have made mistakes in their mathematical modeling.”
He predicted that "the peak will happen within five to seven weeks after the [Eid Al-Fitr] holiday", or around the first week of July although "it may be different with the Delta variant whose transmission rate is much faster."
In addition to the stringent restrictions in place, Indonesia has also ramped up its vaccination drive with plans to inoculate 181.5 million people, or “100 percent of the population above 18 years old” by year-end, according to Sadikin.
It has also issued emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine’s use on children aged 12-17 and China’s Sinovac vaccine for those between three and 17 years of age.
Many citizens have been inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine, despite Indonesia having other brands in store or in the pipeline. Sinovac is the only vaccine manufacturer that has kept its commitment to deliver 150 million doses, Sadikin said, while others such as AstraZeneca could only send 30 million doses.
“(AstraZeneca) has failed to meet its commitment to deliver 50 million doses by the end of this year because of whatever problem they have,” he added.
Indonesia is expecting more deliveries from vaccine manufacturers and contributions from other countries, including the first delivery of its order of 50 million Pfizer doses in early August.
This is in addition to 4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine from the US, 3 million from the Netherlands and an unspecified number from the UK.
Nearly a million AstraZeneca doses arrived from Japan, as a donation, on Thursday.
However, Sadikin said that the second wave was not due to the vaccine brands in use in Indonesia.
“It is not about the difference in efficacy in every vaccine; it is primarily because of the Delta variant. It happens everywhere,” Sadikin said, adding that countries such as the UK, which uses AstraZeneca, has also seen a surge in infections recently.
In Indonesia’s case, he said, Sinovac jabs have reduced the risk of infections from severe to mild, and from mild to asymptomatic, in addition to a “reduced death percentage in the second wave of the outbreak as compared to the first.”
With a vaccine shortage globally, Sadikin said Indonesia has been active in becoming the co-sponsor of the Trade-Related Aspects of IP Rights (TRIPS) waiver proposal to demand a suspension on intellectual property (IP) rights protection on COVID-19 vaccines and related medical supplies.
However, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that while waivers for IP rights could be a solution, it does not mean production can start soon “as it requires the industrial capacity, a lot of skills, and a lot of know-how.
“Even if you have the right to produce, it would be useless if you don’t have the tools to do that,” Borrell said in a limited interview with Indonesian and foreign media during his visit to Jakarta in June.
What the EU is doing, Borrell explained, is boosting its production capacity and exporting half of its production in Europe, with plans to expand production in Africa since it produces only 2 percent of the vaccines they need.
“This can be done without waiting to have an agreement on the IP, it is part of the solution, but it is not the automatic solution,” Borrell said.
But Indonesia is confident it can produce the vaccines if the IP rights are waived, Sadikin said.
“We have sent a formal letter to the WHO that Indonesia is extremely interested in building vaccine production capacity. We don’t need the money ... We have the expertise. What we need is access to the technology to produce the vaccine and also the therapeutic medicine,” he added.