Indonesia is set to tighten distancing measures to counter record numbers of Covid-19 cases as experts warn that south-east Asia’s largest country is on the brink of a “catastrophe”.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo on Thursday said the new curbs, which will run from July 3-July 20 with the aim of reducing daily cases to below 10,000, will be implemented in the islands of Java, home to the capital Jakarta, and Bali, a tourism hotspot.
Restrictions include working from home for non-essential sectors, teaching online, closing shopping centres and barring dining in restaurants.
“The Covid-19 pandemic in the last few days has developed very quickly because of a new variant that is also a serious problem in many countries,” Widodo said. “This situation requires us to take more decisive steps.”
Widodo called on the national armed forces, the “state” and “civil” apparatus as well as doctors and health workers to help implement the restrictions.
The announcement comes a day after Indonesia reported a record daily increase in Covid-19 cases of 21,807 new infections. With more than 2m cases, it has south-east Asia’s worst outbreak.
The world’s fourth most populous country reported a string of record daily infections in June, putting its healthcare system under severe strain and leading analysts to fear Indonesia might be on the brink of disaster.
“Urgent increases are needed in medical care, testing and vaccinations as Indonesia teeters on the edge of a Covid-19 catastrophe,” the International Red Cross said in a statement this week. It added that the Delta variant was propelling infections nationwide and “overwhelming hospitals and oxygen supplies in Jakarta and other areas of the country”.
Widodo has resisted implementing a national lockdown in part to avoid denting the economy, opting instead for neighbourhood-level restrictions while allowing business to largely carry on.
Peter Mumford, head of south-east and south Asia at Eurasia Group, said that while these measures “were modestly effective” in bringing outbreaks under control earlier this year, they remained “unclear and inconsistently implemented”.
“Jokowi’s [as Widodo is known] hesitancy over introducing tougher measures risks prolonging and worsening the outbreak,” he added.
The latest surge in cases follows the annual mass movement of migrant workers across the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation to celebrate the end of Ramadan in May.
The new Covid-19 wave comes in spite of Indonesia launching a national vaccine drive in January that relied heavily on China’s Sinovac jab. Less than 5 per cent of Indonesia’s 270m population have received two vaccine doses.
Widodo on Monday said Indonesia aimed to double the number of doses administered daily to 2m by next month.