| 15 April 2024, Monday |

Indonesia’s easing of COVID-19 curbs seen driven by economics

Despite reports of record-high mortality in recent days, Indonesia’s decision to loosen some COVID-19 restrictions this week is motivated by social and economic considerations, not epidemiological advice, according to public health experts.

President Joko Widodo stated on Sunday that while overall limits in place since July would be extended for a week, specific measures would be loosened as the country battles the biggest coronavirus outbreak in Asia.

Salons, garages, traditional markets, and restaurants with outdoor areas will be allowed to reopen on a conditional basis, while malls will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity outside of designated higher-risk “red zones.”

“The choice appears to be based on economics more than the pandemic,” Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, said, asking people to follow health regulations.

In the previous month, hospitals have been overflowing with patients, particularly on the heavily populated islands of Java and Bali, but the president stated on Sunday that infections and hospital occupancy have decreased, but did not specify how much.

The move to ease some curbs comes as the government has faced pressure from business groups to act to avoid mass layoffs, and with several relatively small-scale street demonstrations last week.

“The problem is that compared to last year the impact of the pandemic, not just on the health sector, but on socio-economic and political aspects is getting bigger by the day because of the Delta variant,” said Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Queensland’s Griffith University.

As the Delta variant, first identified in India, has spread across Indonesia cases have surged to the highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

In mid-July, Southeast Asia’s largest economy set a new daily case record of over 56,000, and while reported case counts have decreased significantly, Indonesia registered a four-day COVID-19 fatality record last week.

However, with more than half of Indonesians working in the informal sector, limited financial resources, and rising pandemic fatigue, the government has few options, according to Dr Dicky.

“Is this the best option? No, based on the current epidemiological scenario. However, due to the complexities of the issue, the administration has no choice.”

  • Reuters