JAKARTA: Indonesia deployed hundreds of thousands of army and police personnel across the vast archipelago to enforce social distancing rules after a record surge in infections in the past week cast doubt about plans to reopen Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
Almost 350,000 officers will guard public transport, shopping malls and tourism sites in four provinces and 25 cities including capital Jakarta, which have implemented partial lockdowns, according to National Military Chief Hadi Tjahjanto.
Army and police personnel will “discipline citizens and make the society abide” by the large scale social distancing rules, President Joko Widodo said after visiting a subway station in central Jakarta.
“With the massive deployment we hope we can flatten the virus curve and bring it down,” Jokowi, as the president is known, said in televised comments on Tuesday. The reproductive rate of infections in some provinces is already below one and “I expect this will continue to fall with this deployment.”
Authorities are stepping up surveillance amid a surge in cases and fears of a new wave of infections with the return of hundreds of thousands of people to cities after the Eid al-Fitr holidays.
Jakarta, the first large city to enforce large scale social distancing rules in the country, will monitor the scale of new infections and other epidemiological evidences to decide if it should extend the partial lockdown beyond June 4, Governor Anies Baswedan said.
Cases have soared in recent weeks with the total tally reaching 23,165 on Tuesday and death toll topping 1,400 even with almost 100 million people in the country’s most-populous provinces under partial lockdowns for much of this month.
While the government is weighing easing restrictions in phases from next month to stem massive job losses and a hit to the economy, health experts have cautioned against loosening them too soon.
The government also needs to educate the community about the health protocols with simple language and step up its virus testing capacity to stem the spread of the virus, according to Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia.
“A new normal life will never feel calm and safe if our Covid-19 testing services are not ready,” Riono said on Twitter. The government should “continue to improve tests, tracing and isolation.”
Indonesia, a country of almost 270 million people, has done polymerase chain reaction tests on just 188,302 people, official data show. The low test ratio is a key reason for the small number of confirmed cases and deaths, according to LaporCovid19.org, an open-source platform backed by public health experts.
With the Covid-19 pandemic taking a heavy toll on the economy, the government has taken unprecedented emergency fiscal measures, abandoning a budget deficit ceiling of 3 per cent of gross domestic product as it accelerates spending to counter the pandemic.
It has announced stimulus packages totalling US$43 billion to cushion the impact of the outbreak that’s forecast to shrink the economy 0.4 per cent in a worst-case scenario.
Indonesia wants to remain productive but safe from Covid-19, Jokowi said, adding any step toward the new normal would be based on epidemiological data. The government may extend the deployment of the army to other parts of the country if it made a significant impact in containing the virus spread within a week, he said.
A majority of Indonesians were dissatisfied with Jokowi’s handling of the virus as policies were marred by inconsistencies, slow delivery of social safety net assistance and rising unemployment, a poll by independent surveyor Indobarometer said.
While 53.8 per cent of participants were dissatisfied with Jokowi’s virus policies, 57.3 per cent of respondents were happy with the handling of the pandemic by provincial governments, it said.