The Indonesian government is in the process of easing the restrictive measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), spending most of last week in preparations to reopen the economy. This comes despite an uptick in new infections that has brought the total number of cases to more than 28,000 across the archipelago on Wednesday.
“We still have important, strategic agendas that remain a priority for our national interests and that should not be halted,” President Joko Widodo said during a Cabinet meeting last week.
To ensure citizens abide by guidelines — such as wearing face masks and observing social distancing — the government has deployed 340,000 police and military personnel to monitor the situation in over 1,000 public places in four provinces and 25 regencies and municipalities across the country.
Experts, however, are divided over the government’s decision to involve the military in dealing with the pandemic.
“The military has been a part of the government’s response to the pandemic since the beginning. So far, they have not overstepped their role,” Stanislaus Riyanta, University of Indonesia’s intelligence and security analyst, said, adding that “public discipline” was necessary for the virus-containing measures to work.
Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the university, echoed Riyanta’s statements.
“Compliance with the health protocols in public places is the only vaccine we have right now. We have no other choice but to adopt these measures,” Riono said.
However, Asfinawati Ajub, human rights advocate and chairwoman of the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation disagrees, adding that such reasons are not enough to deploy military personnel and that the policy was “ill-intended.”
As of Wednesday, there were 684 new infection cases, increasing the national tally to 28,233, while the death toll rose to 1,698, with 35 new deaths reported, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.
While 12 provinces did not report any new positive cases, while four provinces — East Java, Jakarta, Banten, and South Kalimantan — recorded the highest number of new infections.
East Java has emerged as a new COVID-19 hotspot, with new clusters popping up in the province.
Meanwhile, the provincial capital and Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, remained the worst-hit in the province, despite the extension of large-scale social restrictions.
“City residents have not been complying with restrictions. Many Surabayans cannot work from home. They have to go out to earn their living,” Nunung Pramono, a freelance tour guide in Surabaya, said.
Last week, Minister of Tourism Wishnutama Kusubandio said that regions that had been declared safe to reopen would need at least one month to implement health protocols. Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi issued social distancing guidelines to open places of worship on Saturday.
But Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono, another epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, said that the nationwide anti-virus measures, in general, were not enough to curb the spread of the virus, let alone allow for an easing of restrictions.
“But we can review the measures based on each region’s capacity to contain the virus, such as controlling the spread, isolating the infected, or identifying imported cases,” he said.
On Friday, West Java Gov. Ridwan Kamil said that after imposing province-wide, large-scale social restrictions, new cases had dropped significantly and that a majority of regencies and municipalities in the province — the third-most infected in Indonesia — could start easing some restrictions.
The government said that the reproduction rate of new cases in virus-stricken Jakarta had dropped to a more controllable level and that if this remained consistent for at least two weeks, it would be safe to lift some restrictions.
This story has been updated from its original one in Arab News