Category: Health

Saudis get a taste of traditional Indonesian medicine

Indonesia is looking to make inroads into Saudi Arabia’s herbal drug market following its first export of jamu, a traditional medicine, to the Kingdom last week, officials said.

Sido Muncul, a publicly listed herbal producer, shipped a container of jamu — a slow-brewed herbal tonic containing turmeric, ginger, curcuma and other herbs — to the Kingdom on Aug. 10.

The shipment is worth nearly $100,000, company CEO Irwan Hidayat said.

Jamu in its liquid form is the go-to drink for many Indonesians, who value it for its medicinal properties.

Hidayat said that the company has previously shipped Tolak Angin — an over-the-counter tonic comprising ginger, clove, fennel fruit, mint and honey — to Indonesian stores in the Kingdom.

“But this shipment marked our first official export as our product has been approved by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and the product labeling is written in Arabic. It will be distributed by our local importer partner and sold by major retailers,” he said.

The term “tolak angin” means repelling the wind and is the antonym of “masuk angin” or catching the wind. Masuk angin is used by Indonesians to describe how they feel when suffering from any of the various symptoms of the flu.

Hidayat said Sido Muncul is looking to secure a distribution license for a more significant market share in the Kingdom.

“We are planning to submit more of our products for registration to the Saudi FDA. It would be good for us if we can get the SFDA’s license for distribution as it will increase our chances of securing the local consumers’ trust,” he said.

While the main consumer target will be Indonesians living in the Kingdom, Tolak Angin is already a favorite among Saudis, according to its distributor.

Kasan Muhri, trade ministry director-general for national export development said that Saudi Arabia is a “captive market” for Indonesian jamu products given the potential number of Indonesians living in the country and visiting for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage.

Indonesia has the world’s largest annual Hajj quota, with 221,000 pilgrims with nearly 1 million Indonesians visiting the Kingdom every year to perform Umrah.

“We also aim for Filipinos and other Southeast Asians, who have similar consumer behavior to Indonesians and are no strangers to herbal medicine,” Muhri said.

Sido Muncul’s first export of jamu is based on a trade deal forged with Mizanain Marketing and Trading, a Saudi Arabian distributor, during the 2019 Trade Expo Indonesia held outside Jakarta in October last year.

Muhri said the ministry is optimistic the exports will spur Indonesia’s biopharmaceutical and food sectors’ efforts to penetrate the global market, despite restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Muhri, this is also a notable move for Indonesia’s trade to Saudi Arabia since the biopharmaceutical and food and beverage sectors are exempted from the Kingdom’s recent tariff increase on 500 varieties of products. Data from Statistics Indonesia showed that exports of biopharmaceutical products increased to $4.2 million or 32.8 percent year-on-year in the first half of this year — a favorable outcome despite the decline in purchasing power globally.

The original story is published in Arab News

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, Indonesian officials said during recent online forums.

As the country still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the government is not taking the risk to create new clusters with foreign tourist arrivals and to compromise its coronavirus control efforts, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said on Saturday.

“For the time being, we are still evaluating the reopening to foreign tourists,” said Thohir, who also chairs the national committee to accelerate economic recovery and COVID-19 mitigation during an online discussion.

Earlier on Thursday, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said during an online meeting with the country’s business community that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat.

“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11.

Bali reopened its tourism spots to locals on the island on July 9 and started welcoming back domestic tourists from other parts of Indonesia on July 31.

According to an analysis issued in June based on the extraction of data location of 208,362 Instagram posts with hashtag #TakeMeBack, travelers revealed that Bali ranked second – with the Giza pyramid complex in Egypt ranked first – as the destination that they missed the most in the absence of traveling during the pandemic.

Dutch online reservation company Booking.com in May placed Bali among the top international destinations alongside Andalusia, Florida, London, and Paris that travelers around the world put on their wish list, based on a survey conducted on its platform in April and March to users grounded by lockdowns and international travel restrictions.

Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak.

Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.

Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.”

“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana said.

According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.

“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said.

According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region.

The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue.

According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers.

He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.

This story has been updated from its original in Arab News

Scant internet complicates remote learning in Indonesia

Wearing masks and face shields to guard against coronavirus, four pupils hunch over textbooks and a mobile phone during a remote learning session in a poor neighbourhood near the Indonesian capital.

“It’s not easy to learn online, and it’s also boring,” says 8-year-old Aldina, dressed in a bright red-and-white elementary school uniform and a matching face covering. “I wish I could be back in school so I can be with my friends and teachers,” she adds. 

Schools across Indonesia began implementing online learning as early as after the first cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in the country, but scant internet access in many areas and limited access to devices mean that many students are struggling to keep up.

Cellular coverage is spotty in Aldina’s densely populated neighbourhood in Bogor, a city just outside Jakarta, forcing her and three of her classmates to attend online classes outdoors on the side of the shallow Ciliwung river to get a signal.

“Apart from the weak phone signal, having to buy more pre-paid phone credit is a burden for us,” says Nur Aida, Aldina’s 42-year-old mother, who accompanies the children during classes.

“We don’t always have money for it,” she says.

Nearby, three junior high school students sit on a bench on the front porch of a modest house on the riverbank, each with a mobile phone. 

They are among those who have it easier. 

In West Sumatra province, some students have to walk several kilometres uphill to receive a cell signal to allow them to take part in remote classes, local officials say.  

Parents have also bore the brunt of the situation. 

Local media report that a 42-year-old man who was caught stealing a mobile phone in West Java admitted that he resorted to theft because he could not afford to buy one to be used by his child for remote learning.  

Education Minister Nadiem Makarim, former chief executive of the country’s most successful ride-hailing start-up, Gojek, said he is aware of the difficulties students and parents are facing.  

“It’s a challenging situation for all of us, and I sympathize with the parents and students for having to adapt to this different learning format abruptly,” he told local television.

“This isn’t something we all wanted. The choice is between learning poorly or not learning at all,” Makarim said.

He has promised that his ministry would come up with an emergency curriculum adapted to the pandemic and remote learning in a few days.

He also said the government would provide subsidies worth 3 trillion rupiah (205 million dollars) to schools to allow them to provide wider internet access and purchase devices for online learning.

About 65 per cent of Indonesia’s 265 million people have access to the internet, according to the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association. More people in the archipelago national have been able to access the internet in recent years thanks to the influx of cheap Chinese-made mobile phones and increasingly affordable data plans.

Fibre-optic internet access is still limited to major cities. 

Over 60 million students across Indonesia have been forced to attend remote classes during the pandemic, the SMERU Research Institute said in a report. While teachers in major cities are well-equipped to conduct classes online, those in villages have to travel as far as 30 kilometres to deliver lessons and homework to each student in-person because of a lack of internet access and gadgets, the institute said.

“If the problems persist until at least schools are reopened, it is highly likely that students under less fortunate circumstances will experience learning loss,” the report said.

“Learning inequality between students with different socio-economic backgrounds will also get even wider,” it said.

Around 80 per cent of Indonesians wanted schools to reopen even though daily Covid-19 cases show no signs of going down, according to the results of a survey by the private pollster Cyrus Network. 

Last week, the head of the country’s Covid-19 task force, Doni Monardo, said only schools in green zones across the country are allowed to reopen, but only 27 per cent of them were ready for physical classes.

“Some parents are happy for their children to return to school, but there are many others who object to in-person classes,” he tells a news conference. “The government leaves it to regional governments to decide.”

Long road to recovery for Indonesia

The days leading up to the Eid al-Adha festival, which this year fell on July 31, were usually the busiest days of the year for Bintang Tani Madani, a cow breeder in Bogor on the outskirts of Jakarta.

The company specializes in breeding sacrificial cows, also known as qurban, for the Muslim festivities, but the Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on the business. Sales have plunged as consumer purchasing power is severely affected, he says.

The annual feast of sacrifice obliges Muslims with the financial means to buy prime and healthy livestock and to slaughter them in accordance with Islamic protocols. The meat is then distributed to the needy.

“Sales have dropped significantly. Sacrificial cow traders have seen less than 50% of last year’s sales. We also faced competition from seasonal traders who set up temporary shops in city centers, so there was an oversupply, while the demand had weakened,” said Muhammad Arif, a manager at Bintang Tani Madani.

“[Breeders] were expecting to see a rebound in sales during this season since they lost the momentum to generate business during the end of Ramadan festivities when there was little demand for meat because we had large-scale social restrictions at the time.”

The global economic turmoil caused by the pandemic has had a severe impact on Indonesia, with most Indonesians experiencing income losses, the World Bank said in its latest Indonesia Economic Prospects report released on July 16 in Jakarta.

Mobility restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus, and caution among consumers worried about their financial prospects, have led to a freeze in tourism and empty shops and restaurants. The country’s economic growth is projected to fall to zero this year, the report said.

By some standards that would not be a bad performance, given that dozens of countries are resigned to a contraction in the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.

But Indonesia could easily end up in the red if the government has to reimpose large-scale social restrictions to combat a new wave of Covid-19, cautioned Frederico Gil Sander, lead economist with the World Bank office in Indonesia.

“We think that the economy could contract by two percent in 2020,” Sander said.

Jakarta administration has extended the transitional period of its large-scale social restrictions for another two weeks until August 13,  Governor Anies Baswedan announced on Friday.

The city has seen a surge in new cases, including in at least 90 workplaces which have emerged as new infection clusters as more employees have resumed working in offices despite city regulation that during the transitional period, workplaces have to slash by half their employees’ presence in the office.

“We will impose a progressive fine for businesses and could eventually close the establishment that repeatedly violates the health protocol,” Baswedan said.

To deter people’s unnecessary mobility, the city administration started on Monday to reimpose the odd-even license plate policy as a form of its “emergency brake” to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Jakarta remains one of the infection hotspots in the country with 22,616 cases as of August 3 and its positive virus test rate is 6.5% of all tests results, well above the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines which suggest a 5% positive rate as the maximum benchmark for policymakers seeking to resume economic activity.

A key finding the World Bank report suggested that to support a safe reopening of the economy, having a robust health system remains the priority. A safe sustainable reopening requires continued improvements in health system capacity and readiness, including continued expansion of testing and surveillance.

To date, Indonesia has tested 841,027 people in a population of 267 million. According to the WHO in its weekly situation report on Covid-19 in Indonesia, Jakarta is the only province that has achieved the minimum case detection benchmark, or comprehensive surveillance and testing of suspected cases, of 1 per 1,000 population per week.

In any case, the business community appears eager to get on with normal life again, according to a survey conducted by the Jakarta-based pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia and released on July 23.

Despite the escalating number of cases and widespread infections, 65.1% of the 1,176 respondents are not in favor of the government reinstating mobility restrictions, although 84.7% of them remain “very concerned” about the outbreak, the pollsters found.

The respondents included businesspeople from micro-enterprises to big corporations in seven sectors across nine provinces.

“About 53.3% of the respondents prefer the government to prioritize handling the economic sector over the health sector, while 89.4% agreed with the government’s initiative to introduce adaptation to new habits,” Indikator executive director Burhanuddin Muhtadi said at a briefing.

The government has announced a fiscal package amounting to 4.3% of GDP in response to the crisis, which includes funds to improve the preparedness of the health sector and a substantial increase in social assistance.

Without a significant expansion of social assistance, according to the World Bank report, roughly 5.5 million Indonesians could fall into poverty because of the economic halt triggered by the pandemic. The stimulus package could go a long way to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on poverty if fully disbursed and well-targeted, it said.

“It is essential that the package be effectively implemented to have the fullest impact on the people and the economy,” said Satu Kahkonen, the World Bank country director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

The story has been updated from its original version in Bangkok Post

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help remote villages fight virus

A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, said that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he said.

Relawan Merah Putih handed over their assistance to village officials in Duma village of North Maluku regency during a campaign to spread awareness of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he said.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.

This story was first published in Arab News

Indonesia battles dengue outbreak as COVID-19 persists

Indonesia is battling a second deadly disease, dengue fever, which continues to infect its population way past the average peak recorded earlier this year, after efforts to prevent the outbreak were sidelined by anti-COVID-19 restrictions.

According to the Health Ministry, as of Monday there were 68,000 dengue cases across the nation, resulting in 446 deaths.

Deserted tourism hotspots, such as Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara and Buleleng, Denpasar, and Badung in Bali are among the regions recording the most significant number of dengue infections.

COVID-19 cases were also on the rise in Bali, which had 1,080 cases as of Monday.  

“Many hotels that are left empty may have become breeding grounds for mosquito populations,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Health Ministry’s director for vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, said.

“They have always been in check with regular mosquito larvae controlling measures but, with workers off duty, the efforts have been largely unchecked.” 

She said that while Bali had always recorded a significant number of dengue cases, they had never been as high as this year.

“We encourage operators of hotels and places of worship to also conduct larvae busting efforts in addition to disinfecting their premises ahead of the reopening of tourism areas.”

In previous years, dengue fever season would have peaked by March or April. But  this year the country is seeing a prolonged period of infections, with many cases still being recorded in June.

“Normally we would find less than 10 cases by June but, this year, we still find 100 to 500 cases every day so far, although the number of cases and fatalities year-on-year are not as high as June 2019, which recorded 105,000 cases and 727 deaths,” Tarmizi added.

Dengue fever first hit Indonesia in 1968, and the fatality rate had reached almost 50 percent. However, health authorities managed to control the outbreak and reduced the fatality rate to less than one percent over the years.

A spike in the dengue outbreak occurred in 2015, with authorities pulling out all the stops to prevent a recurrence.

But they are also likely to be dealing with double infection cases as the dengue outbreak is occurring in provinces that are most infected by coronavirus such as West Java, Jakarta, East Java, and South Sulawesi, Dr. Tarmizi said.

A chart from the Health Ministry has marked the whole of Java — Indonesia’s most populated island where 141 million of the country’s 270 million people live — in red, indicating that infections are high in the area.

The provinces located in Java, including the capital, Jakarta, West Java, and East Java are also the worst-hit by COVID-19.

Indonesia reported 954 new COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths on Monday, increasing the national total to 46,845, and the fatalities to 2,500, while Jakarta’s cases reached 10,098.

“While dengue can infect people of all ages, we have seen a trend of teenagers who are already in a critical phase being admitted (to hospitals),” Dr. Mulya Rahma Karyanti, a pediatrician, said during an online press conference on Monday.

The Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI) chairman, Aman Pulungan, has said that dengue fever is among a list of health problems that many Indonesian minors suffer from, making them among the most vulnerable to be infected by coronavirus.

Living with the dead: Indonesia’s Torajans downsize burials amid pandemic

She had been dead for two years and was ready to be buried. After restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were imposed in March, however, villagers in the La’bo village of the North Toraja regency in Sulawesi Island had no choice but to suspend the ceremony at the last minute.

On Saturday, they were finally able to hold a proper burial for the deceased village elder in a toned-down version of the elaborate, centuries-old ceremony known as Rambu Solo. The ceremony is central to the lives of the Toraja ethnic group, who are predominantly Christian but hold some animistic belief.

The Torajas inhabit two administrative areas — the North Toraja and Tana Toraja regencies — in the South Sulawesi province.

For Torajans, the deceased are not dead yet; they are seen, rather, as sick. Family members still talk to them, bringing food and drinks and keeping essential items nearby. The mummified corpse remains unburied in the family’s tongkonan, or a Toraja traditional house, while years of preparations for the burial ceremony is underway. It is a large family affair which would last for up to a week in pre-COVID-19 times, involving the entire village and requires the sacrifice of dozens of buffaloes.

“We condensed the ceremony to only two days. We also conducted the burial in compliance with health protocols by providing a hand washing station at the entrance. All mourners who came in had to wear face masks,” Yohannes Limbong, a family representative said.

The family was supposed to hold the ceremony on March 25, but it was suspended after the regency administration issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, advising citizens to hold off on any events involving large gatherings of people such as the Rambu Solo.

A relative mourns on the deceased’s coffin. (Photo: Lisa Saba Palloan)

As of Saturday, the regency has not reported any COVID-19 deaths, but there were four confirmed cases, all of whom were travelers from virus-infected areas, including the provincial capital, Makassar, about 317 kilometers away. 

The province has had 3,635 confirmed cases so far or about 8 percent of the 45,029 national caseloads. North Toraja, which has a population of 230,000, has lifted some restrictions in recent weeks after the region was considered an area where the risk of infections is low, allowing for religious events. Participants are nevertheless required to observe health protocols.

“There were less than 100 mourners who attended the ceremony. Normally, it would be double that amount or more,” Lisa Saba Palloan, a local tourist guide, said.

Romba Marannu Sombolinggi, chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago Toraya chapter, said that families who conducted the burials recently had to compromise between the obligation to perform a respectable send-off and compliance with social restrictions.

“A complete ceremony could take at least five days,” she said.

“But we are obeying government regulations. There are some disappointments, but we understand the situation. We do not want people to be infected because we insist on having the long ceremony.”

A few people had died who were under treatment but who had tested negative for COVID-19. They had to be buried in accordance with health protocols as soon as possible, which meant that the surviving family members could not keep the deceased embalmed in their houses as they would traditionally do.

“The families still performed the most essential rituals, including sacrificing at least a pig or a buffalo before the burial,” Sombolinggi said.

Sombolinggi said that buffaloes are sacrificed to mark the symbolic passage to death since they would serve as the deceased’s “carriage” in the afterlife.

“It is very much about the family’s dignity. They would otherwise experience social repercussions if they were not able to hold a presentable burial,” she added.

Read the full story in Arab News

Mahfud MD slammed for comparing coronavirus to wives

Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mohammad Mahfud MD, has been criticized sharply for comparing the novel coronavirus to a wife in an attempt to allay public concerns about easing COVID-19 restrictions. 

The Indonesian government is preparing to lift partial lockdowns in parts of the country in early June and adopt what it calls ‘the new normal’. 

“Are we going to be holed up forever? We can adjust to the situation while still paying attention to our health,” Mahfud said in a video posted on YouTube on Wednesday. 

“The other day I got a meme from my colleague Luhut Pandjaitan that says: Corona is like your wife. Initially you tried to control it, then you realize that you can’t. Then you learn to live with it,” he said in English. 

Pandjaitan is the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment.  

The off-the-cuff remarks drew ire from women’s rights groups and other Indonesians online.

“Not only does the statement reflect the incompetence of the government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, it also demonstrates the sexist and misogynistic attitudes of public officials,” Women’s Solidarity Society said in a statement.  

“Jokes that objectify women will only normalize the culture of violence against women,” it said.

Indonesians on social media joined the chorus of criticism. 

“A man who marries a woman with the intention to control her is horrifying. Comparing a woman to a virus is an insult to the dignity of women,” a Twitter user named Deslina wrote. 

Some Indonesians have expressed concerns about the plan to reopen the economy at a time when the curve appears to have not flattened. 

The government is deploying 340,000 security personnel in four provinces – Jakarta, West Java, West Sumatra and Gorontalo – to enforce “the new normal,” Armed Forces chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto. 

They have been tasked with ensuring the public observe health guidelines prescribed by the government, including wearing masks and respecting social distancing. 

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose to 23,851 on Wednesday, an increase of 686 from the previous day. 

An additional 55 deaths brought the number of fatalities to 1,473.

Indonesia urges pregnancy postponement amid fears of COVID-19 baby boom

Indonesia’s family planning agency on Thursday urged couples to delay pregnancies after estimates showed that 10 percent of reproductive couples in the fourth most-populous country had abandoned contraception as a result of restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lack of access to contraceptives could result in 420,000 unplanned pregnancies, sparking fears of a COVID-19 baby boom, said Hasto Wardoyo, the head of the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN).

“With an additional 420,000 births next year, population growth in Indonesia could surge dramatically,” he said. “If you plan to get pregnant, now is not the right time.”

The government estimates that about 15 percent of 3 million couples who stopped using contraception between March and April could end up pregnant, Hasto said, adding that 95 percent of contraceptive users in Indonesia are women.

Hasto said people had been reluctant to visit health clinics because of fears they would contract COVID-19, while many health workers have suspended their practices to avoid contact with other people.

Government health workers assisted by military personnel are going door-to-door to provide contraceptives and other family planning services, along with personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel in the field of reproductive health, he said.

Health officials in Tasikmalaya, a regency in West Java province, reported earlier this month that the pregnancy rate doubled to more than 3,200 in the January-to-March period compared to last year.

“The April-to-May period may see another rise,” said Uus Supangat, chief of the Tasikmalaya health office, according to Kumparan.com online news portal.

Nearly 5 million babies are born every year in Indonesia and about 28 million couples were using contraception last year, according to government data.

COVID-19 cases

Indonesia recorded 973 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the largest single-day rise so far, taking the total to 20,162. East Java province saw the highest daily increase on Thursday, 502, COVID-19 task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said.

Globally, more than 5 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and nearly 330,000 have died as of Thursday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Obstetrics and Gynecology Association (POGI) has urged couples planning pregnancy to postpone visits to clinics until the pandemic is under control as health workers are focusing their attention on providing services to expectant women to prevent COVID-19-related complications.

“Even though there’s no evidence yet that the fetus can be infected by COVID-19, we still have to take precautions,” said Budi Wiweko, POGI’s deputy secretary general.

“We have to avoid caesarian delivery as much as possible,” he said.

Angga Sisca Rahadian, a researcher with the Population Research Center at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said the predicted 420,000 additional births in 2021 would make it harder for Indonesia to achieve its total fertility rate target of 2.1. The rate refers to the average number of children a woman would have if she survives all reproductive years.

Indonesia’s total fertility rate is 2.4, according to a 2017 demographic and health survey.

“With the increase in pregnancy rates during the pandemic, it will certainly affect the growth rate,” Angga said, referring to population growth.

Angga said the government must ensure that women who are pregnant during the pandemic are given maternity care.

“These are unplanned pregnancies and the government has to find ways to keep pregnant women well-nourished to prevent complications,” she said.

Infant mortality rate in Indonesia is 24 per 1,000 live births, while under-5 mortality rate is 32 per 1,000 live births, far beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of 70 per 100,000 live births, according to the 2017 demographic survey.

Travel concerns

Task force spokesman Yurianto attributed the jump in single-day COVID-19 cases in Indonesia to increased testing and the failure to observe social distancing measures.

He warned that the country could see an increase in infections because of higher mobility during the holy month of Ramadan culminating in the Eid al-Fitr festival, which falls on Sunday.

Traffic in the greater Jakarta region has been busier in recent days ahead of Eid al-Fitr, while airports, sea ports and markets have also started to reopen.

The head of the COVID-19 task force’s team of experts, Wiku Adisasmito, said public perception that travel restrictions had been relaxed could also be a factor.

“It could be due to increased testing, or due to the lack of discipline in observing health protocols,” he said.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday said the government would not ease restrictions amid criticism that the government is silently relaxing measures to curb the spread the virus to keep the economy running.

Speculation that the government is taking steps toward reopening the economy emerged last week after Wiku said residents 45 and younger could be allowed to return to work.

He said West Java has been a bright spot in the fight against COVID-19 for its success in flattening the curve.

“Hopefully other provinces can catch up,” he said.

East Java Deputy Gov. Emil Dardak told local television that the provincial government had tested not only people who showed symptoms of COVID-19, but those who were at risk, resulting in the high number of daily cases.

The story was first published on BenarNews.org

Indonesia extends partial lockdown in second-largest city

Indonesia extended the partial lockdown of its second-largest city Surabaya and the two neighbouring administrative regencies of Sidoarjo and Gresik, in East Java province, as new infections and deaths spiked at the weekend.

East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa said on Sunday that the decision was taken following a review of the Covid-19 growth rate and consultations with epidemiologists.

“After evaluation on the first phase of enforcing the large-scale social restriction, we agreed to extend the restrictions in Surabaya, Gresik and Sidoarjo,” Parawansa said in a statement.

The first phase of partial lockdown in the three regions had been set to end on May 11. It is now due to expire on May 25.

The governor said authorities would more strictly enforce the anti-virus restrictions – including stringent social distancing measures and bans on events and other social gatherings – in place during this second phase.

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Achmad Yurianto, the spokesman for the national Covid-19 task force, said on Sunday that the national caseload in Indonesia rose to 14,032 with 387 new confirmed infections.

Out of the total national tally, 1,502 are in East Java where the death toll rose to 143 and 83 new cases were recorded, surpassing West Java as the second-most infected province after Jakarta, where more than 5,000 infections were found.

East Java found new clusters of Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks, including in a Surabaya plant owned by Indonesia’s largest tobacco company, HM Sampoerna, where two workers died of infection and dozens of others tested positive.

Parawansa also said the provincial administration is seeking approval from the Health Ministry to impose the large-scale social restrictions in the greater Malang area, which consists of Malang and Batu municipalities and Malang regency, after assessment from epidemiologists at Airlangga University showed new infection cases have spiked in the area.