July 19, 2021

Asia

INDONESIA: Next week could be key in effort to bring down cases

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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( 3 mins)

The government is expected to extend the emergency restrictions on public activities (PPKM Emergency), which are scheduled to end on 20 July, by another 14 to 21 days. The measures cover Java and Bali, as well as 15 other regencies and cities. National Covid-19 weekly case growth has been steady at almost 45% for the past three weeks, and one of President Joko Widodo’s top advisers, Maritime Affairs and Investment Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, said today that an extension was “very possible” because of the difficulties in containing the delta variant. Many hospitals in the worst areas are operating beyond capacity and there are numerous cases of deaths among those self- isolating, especially since distribution problems hound oxygen supplies. .

There is some hope in Jakarta of a slight improvement later next week because the number of new cases per day has stabilized since 7 July at 12,000 – 13,000. However, Jakarta’s positivity rate has averaged roughly 40% since the start of the month, which creates substantial doubt about the recent trend. Possibly as problematic, the new case numbers that are rising are dispersed across the rest of Java, as well as Bali, and in provinces such as Gorontalo on the island of Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara, which had previously avoided major outbreaks.

One particular concern for next week is whether public and family gatherings for Idul Adha (Day of Sacrifice) — the holy days from 19 to 23 July when the faithful assemble to slaughter goats and cows — can be sufficiently constrained. As context for its scale, the number of livestock that Indonesians slaughtered during the festival in previous years would be equal to about one-tenth the total butchered in the country for the year.

Last year, many Indonesians still made trips to return to their hometowns or to join family, with the main highways clogged for hours, while the enforcement of social distancing rules was uneven. This year could be different, given the severity of the current outbreak and with local governments issuing rules against travel and gatherings. In central Java, for instance, all toll road exits will be closed for one week starting today. The religious ministry has also banned communal Idul Adha prayers and parades, as well as the practice of giving alms.

The government’s hope is that if a downward trend can be established in Jakarta later next week and Idul Adha-related travel and gatherings are effectively limited, then while cases could still be rising elsewhere over the next week or two, the national numbers would also show a clear downward slope by early August. Retailers are in the meantime asking for help in the form of payroll support and an easing of land and building taxes.

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