Indonesia reels from surge in infections as Covid-19 spreads

Indonesia continues to struggle to contain Covid-19 nine months after the pandemic hit the country, with daily records being set for infections as the disease spreads throughout the vast archipelago, the world’s fourth most populous country with 270 million people. The country remains the worst hit in South-east Asia with the number of confirmed cases at 549,508 as of yesterday and 17,199 deaths.

Infections and fatalities spiked following a long weekend in late October during which, according to government data, some 600,000 cases were logged each day of people violating health protocols at tourist spots. Observers, however, attributed the spike not just to the people’s lack of adherence to safety protocols, criticising the government also for being more concerned about the economy than public health.

President Joko Widodo reminded the public again of the risks of Covid-19 on Facebook last Saturday. He posted: “Nine months in pandemic are nine months of our patience and strength as a nation being tested. Never be negligent, never slack, and don’t be discouraged.”

He has ordered three collective leave days between Christmas and the New Year – Dec 28, 29 and 30 – be cut to curb the transmission of the virus, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy told a press conference late last month. Earlier this year the government rescheduled the Hari Raya holidays from May 26 to 29 to the year’s end.

A city of 11 million people, Jakarta, the capital, has borne the brunt of the pandemic with 1,166 new cases recorded yesterday, bringing the total number of infections in the city to 139,085. In the past two weeks, except for Nov 29, new cases have consistently exceeded 1,000 daily. The death toll has hit 2,706.

Recent mass gatherings by supporters of controversial Islamist cleric Rizieq Shihab, the leader of vigilante group Islamic Defenders Front or FPI, have also raised public ire over the government’s seeming lack of seriousness in handling the pandemic. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who had met Mr Rizieq, said on Tuesday he had contracted Covid-19, days after Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria tested positive.

The virus has killed several regional leaders and infected at least three Cabinet members: Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo and Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi.

On Monday, Mr Joko again ordered regional leaders to step up their efforts to curb the spread of the disease. “It is a regional leader’s duty to protect their citizens, and people’s safety is a top priority,” he said.

The soaring cases are putting a strain on healthcare facilities. As of Nov 26, the occupancy rate for isolation wards in two-thirds of the 98 referral hospitals in Jakarta had exceeded 70 per cent, while half were more than 80 per cent full, latest government data obtained by The Straits Times showed. Fifteen referral hospitals reported full occupancy.

South-east Asia’s largest economy has also been hit hard by the pandemic with gross domestic product (GDP) expected to shrink by 0.6 per cent to 1.7 per cent this year.

Last month, the Jakarta Post, citing Statistics Indonesia (BPS), said the country’s unemployment rate has surged to its highest level since 2011 with some 2.67 million people jobless. Some 29.12 million people or 14.2 per cent of the country’s workforce have been affected by the pandemic, the data showed.

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