Next two weeks ‘critical’ for Indonesia

Java and Bali locked down to curb Covid surge; US donating 4m Moderna doses

A major thoroughfare in Jakarta is deserted as a two-week lockdown took effect on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

JAKARTA: The next two weeks will be a “critical time” for Indonesia, which is counting on new restrictions to bring surging coronavirus cases under control, a senior minister said on Saturday.

Authorities expect infections to keep rising for up to two more weeks before the curbs introduced on Saturday on more than 100 million people begin to reduce cases, said Luhut Pandjaitan, who oversees the government’s Covid response.

The curbs on Java and Bali islands — from tighter travel checks to a ban on restaurant dining and outdoor sports and the closure of non-essential workplaces — are to last until July 20, but could be extended, if needed, to bring daily infections below 10,000.

“This two weeks is a critical time for us,” said Pandjaitan.

Indonesia has been battling one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. The country has had record new infections on eight of the past 12 days, including 25,830 cases on Friday, and a record 539 deaths. Cumulative infections since the pandemic began have reached 2.2 million, with more than 59,000 deaths.

Police on Saturday threw up roadblocks and more than 400 checkpoints across Java, the archipelago’s most populous island, and on Bali to ensure people stay at home, with more than 21,000 officers deployed to enforce the curbs and aid random virus testing.

Vaccinated travellers with a negative swab test will be permitted to make long-distance journeys, however.

Traffic and commuter lines in Jakarta in western Java were much lighter than usual on Saturday, but some residents still flouted the curbs to jog and ride their bicycles, even though the main road was blocked.

Jakarta resident Clement, 45, who was strolling the street with his wife, told Reuters he disagreed with the curbs, even though he has lost a friend to the respiratory disease.

“We know it’s dangerous, but at least if we want to go to the mall, or somewhere, we should just show our vaccine (certificate) and maybe an antigen (test result),” he said.

The highly infectious Delta variant of the virus is spreading in Indonesia and pushing hospitals across Java to the brink.

With medical facilities near capacity, demand has surged for oxygen and drugs for many people isolating at home, driving retail prices up in pharmacies and online marketplaces.

The health ministry has capped prices of drugs such as favipiravir, remdesivir and ivermectin, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.

Authorities are also trying to speed their vaccination drive in areas with the worst outbreaks. The national inoculation campaign has covered just 7.6% of the 181.5 million people targeted for shots by next January.

Jakarta this weekend launched mass vaccination at a football stadium for children aged 12 to 17, aiming to inject more than 20,000.

The United States, meanwhile, says it will ship 4 million doses of Moderna vaccine to Indonesia.

The doses would be shipped via the Covax global vaccine-sharing programme “as soon as possible,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in a call on Friday, according to a White House statement.

Indonesia has relied mainly on the vaccine from Sinovac Biotech of China, but has been looking to diversify its supply sources.

Penny K Lukito, the head of the national food and drug agency, said earlier on Friday that it had authorised the Moderna vaccine for emergency use.

Washington has been competing with Beijing to deepen geopolitical clout through so-called vaccine diplomacy, although it has said it is not sharing vaccines to secure favours or extract concessions, but to save lives and end the pandemic.

The Biden administration pledged last month to share an initial 80 million US-made vaccines globally amid concern about the disparity in vaccination rates between advanced and developing countries.

It has already announced plans to provide vaccines to other Southeast Asian countries — the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.

It has also said it would purchase 500 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to distribute to the African Union and 92 low- and lower middle-income countries.