The Jakarta Post
Almost one month after the first two COVID-19 cases were announced, efforts to contain the virus, including campaigns to stay home, have shown no significant results. Thousands of people have left Greater Jakarta, the national epicenter of the outbreak, for their hometowns in other parts of Java, putting at risk not only their families but the entire population in those areas.
In Central Java alone, the number of recent visitors already tops 7,000, according to Governor Ganjar Pranowo, who has asked regents and mayors across the province to closely monitor the health of the returnees, most of whom are migrant workers.
Fearing a ticking time bomb, some regional leaders are pushing for “local lockdowns” to protect the population in their territories.
By Friday, the number of confirmed cases in Indonesia reached 1,046, an increase of 153 from the previous day, with 87 deaths. Only now, after the risky, mass-scale human movement has already begun, is the government considering a ban on the annual exodus for the biggest Islamic festival, Idul Fitri. Last year that movement involved about 23 million people, including nearly 15 million from Greater Jakarta.
We second the government’s decision, if it comes, to ban the traditional mudik (exodus) this year. But as pleas for physical distancing and avoiding crowds have not been too effective, we urge immediate partial lockdowns or quarantine; either by islands or provinces.
Some researchers have predicted that the outbreak will only end at the end of May or early June, at the earliest, meaning the crisis will persist as Muslims celebrate Idul Fitri.
The rapid spread of the virus in Italy, the country hit hardest by COVID-19, stemmed from human migration from China, the initial epicenter of the outbreak.
People cannot be blamed for journeying home, as they may have lost jobs or are not well informed about the need for physical distancing and may be anticipating a lockdown. Regional leaders in Greater Jakarta lack the authority to impose travel bans, although they know exactly the danger of the mass movement.
Read also: COVID-19: Local authorities scramble to prevent wider transmission as 'mudik' starts early
Restricting human movement is only possible if the government enforces the 2018 Health Quarantine Law. The law stipulates prison terms and fines for residents leaving regions under quarantine. As a consequence, the government is responsible for feeding the residents in those regions, as well as their livestock.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has repeatedly ruled out this option, despite the mounting pressure for him do otherwise. In a letter that has gone viral, the University of Indonesia’s Medical Professors Council urged the President to implement local lockdowns, such as in Jakarta, for at least 14 days to significantly curb the virus spread.
“Only a few hospitals have ventilators available, leading to a high mortality rate,” the council wrote.
“Studies show that Indonesia only has two intensive care unit [ICU] beds per 100,000 people […] the lowest proportion in Asia,” it added.
The Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) says 10 doctors have died in the struggle to treat patients, which experts say could number tens of thousands in a few months unless tough measures are taken.