Schools and workplaces will be closed in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, as greater restrictions are imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus in the city, where a sudden rise in burials has raised concerns over undetected cases.
President Joko Widodo has previously resisted lockdown measures imposed in many other south-east Asian nations, but there are fears infections are not being spotted by authorities.
So far, officials have confirmed 2,738 cases of coronavirus, and 221 deaths, most of which have occurred in Jakarta. But the country of 264 million is reportedly able to process only 240 of the most accurate tests a day and is instead relying on rapid tests that are less effective.
The central government has been accused of failing to act quickly, after initially downplaying the threat of the virus in the country. It wasn’t until 2 March that a first case was confirmed in Indonesia, prompting fears that the virus may have been left to spread, especially in the country’s densely populated capital.
Last week, Reuters reported an unexplained surge in burials in Jakarta in March, when 4,400 people were buried, 40% more than any month since at least January 2018. Health workers have warned hospitals could be quickly overwhelmed, while groups including Amnesty International Indonesia have urged the government to provide enough personal protective equipment for hospital staff, after at least 18 doctors died while treating patients.
The city’s governor, Anies Baswedan, has been seeking tougher lockdown restrictions to stop transmission, but such calls had been rejected by the central government.
On Tuesday, health minister Terawan Agus Putranto signed an order allowing Jakarta’s administration to introduce stricter measures. It was later announced that these new restrictions, which will last at least two weeks, include closures of schools and workplaces and limits on religious events and cultural activities.
Baswedan had already declared a state of emergency, and told businesses and religious groups to take measures to stop the spread of the virus, but such guidance was only voluntary.
He told a news conference on Tuesday evening that the mandatory restrictions would start on Friday with workplaces closing except for eight sectors such as health, energy, food, and finance, including the capital market.
Public transport hours and passenger capacity will also be cut to reduce the risk of people passing on the virus. Groups of more than five people in public spaces will be banned and police patrols increased to enforce compliance.
“We will do everything strictly,” Baswedan said. “Our interest is to control the spread of [Covid-19].”
There has been friction between Indonesia’s central and local governments over physical distancing measures, with some regional leaders attempting to lock down provincial borders to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands of Jakarta residents have left in recent weeks for their home villages to find a safe haven, or after losing their jobs, officials said.
There are also growing fears that the annual exodus of tens of millions of people to homes across the nation’s archipelago for Ramadan would accelerate the outbreak. Known locally as the “mudik”, the annual migration usually starts at the beginning of Ramadan, late in April. However, there are signs that some people have already travelled home.
Indonesian authorities said last week cash handouts would go to poor families to persuade them to stay in Jakarta, but the government rejected calls to ban the mudik.
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