The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo finally declared a COVID-19 public health emergency on March 31, one month after the first two cases in the country were confirmed on March 2.
The President issued Government Regulation No. 21/2020 on large-scale social distancing as an implementing regulation of the 2018 Health Quarantine Law to restrict the movement of people and goods within a control zone but he stopped short of allowing regional administrations to close their borders.
What does this mean? Will it be enough to curb the spread of the coronavirus?
Read also: Indonesia's latest official COVID-19 figures
Large-scale social restrictions
Large-scale social restrictions include the closure of schools and workplaces, restrictions on religious activities and restrictions on activities in public places.Experts say the measures are not much different from what the nation, especially the capital, had already been implementing since March 15, when the President called for social distancing.
Several regional administrations had imposed these measures, although not strictly, since before the President announced them.
With the announcement of a public health emergency, however, regional administrations must submit a request to apply large-scale social restrictions in their respective regions with the Health Ministry, which will approve the request.
There are three other measures besides the large-scale social restrictions stipulated in the Health Quarantine Law, namely home quarantine, hospital quarantine and regional quarantine.
Regional quarantine measures mean border restrictions in specific areas. Under the public health emergency measures, the central government allows regional administrations to make a request to close their borders, but not large-scale areas.
Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had told his subordinates that provinces, cities and regencies may only implement large-scale social restrictions, whereas regional quarantines – also known as partial quarantines – were to be imposed only in smaller areas.
Without large-scale regional quarantines in place, provinces and cities cannot close their borders.
A taxi driver washes his hands at a temporary public sink on Jl. MH. Thamrin in Central Jakarta on March 24. (JP/Seto Wardhana)
Jokowi has also decided not to ban the mudik (mass exodus) on Idul Fitri, although he has advised people not to mudik.
Before declaring a public health emergency, President Jokowi had been weighing up a declaration of “a civil emergency” as he ordered his Cabinet to impose stricter rules on social distancing, also known as physical distancing, to contain the coronavirus.
This had raised concerns among experts that a civil emergency status might disrupt the handling of a health crisis since such a status, as stipulated in Government Regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) No. 23/1959, implies a heavy-handed security approach.
Presidential spokesperson Fadjroel Rachman said that the civil emergency policies were only anticipatory measures “to prepare for if the situation gets significantly worse.”
Lokataru Legal and Human Rights Foundation executive director Haris Azhar said with the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, health experts and medical workers should be in the forefront in enforcing the measures, not the police.
The government regulation on large-scale social distancing stipulates no legal consequences for violators.
However, the President stressed that the National Police could take legal steps against anyone violating the rules under the large-scale social-distancing measures.
Jakarta Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Yusri Yunus said people could be charged with a criminal offense if they violated the large-scale social-distancing measures based on Article 93 of the Health Quarantine Law.
The article he referred to states that people who violate a health quarantine face a maximum of one year’s imprisonment and/or a Rp 100 million (US$6,238) fine.
A health official in Pandeglang regency, Banten, checks the body temperature of travelers on April 2. (Antara/Muhammad Bagus Khoirunas)
Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) chairwoman Asfinawati said with reference to the law, people violating quarantine measures could not be charged with the above sanctions if they caused no harm that might lead to a health emergency.
“If somebody goes out in public but makes no contact with anyone, for example, security personnel can ask the person to go home, but the person cannot be charged under the law,” she told The Jakarta Post over the phone on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, she added, the repressive nature of the Health Quarantine Law was not to control citizens individually but rather to restrict commercial activities.
Asfinawati also warned the government not to apply repressive measures.
“Health problems cannot be solved by imprisonment,” she said.
Legal experts have said that rather than punishing social-distancing violators, the government needs to instead make sure people can stay at home without losing their income.
Constitutional law expert from Jakarta-based Jentera School of Law Bivitri Susanti said the government should provide “stimulus packages” for companies that would face major losses if productivity decreased as a result of closure.
“The government cannot directly order all companies to ask their employees to work from home,” Bivitri told the Post on Tuesday.
She feared that without incentives, employees asked to work from home would be unpaid or that there would be mass unemployment where companies took into account costs and laid off manual workers or employees with temporary contracts.
With the large-scale social-distancing measures, restrictions on activities must take into consideration meeting of the basic needs of the people, as stipulated in Article 4 of the government regulation.
The government has issued Perppu No. 1/2020 on state financial policy and financial system stability, refocusing state expenditure of Rp 405.1 trillion on the health sector, social-welfare safety net and tax incentives.
A detailed explanation of the Perppu can be found here. https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/04/01/indonesias-covid-19-stimulus-playbook-explained.html
Is it enough to defeat the coronavirus?
Padjajaran University epidemiologist Panji Fortuna Hadisoemarto said social restrictions alone were not enough without large-scale regional quarantines especially for areas with demographic characteristics of high inter-regional movement.
“If the population is relatively static, large-scale social distancing can help. But for such high mobility in Jakarta, a regional quarantine is really needed,” he said.
As the coronavirus continues to spread to different regions, some local administrations have proactively imposed limitations on social activities and applied border restrictions to prevent further transmission.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan previously proposed that the central government close the capital’s borders while prohibiting all activities within the city except for those related to energy, food, health, communications and finance.
The President, however, has repeatedly urged local and regional leaders to abide by the same rules of play through his government’s current regulations and not issue their own regulations.
“With the issuance of this government regulation, everything is clear. I ask regional leaders not to make their own policies,” Jokowi said.
A health worker helps a colleague at the emergency COVID-19 hospital at the athletes village in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta on March 23. (Antara/Pool/Hafidz Mubarak A)
Even so, the government has issued a temporary ban on foreigners entering the country. The curbs will not apply to holders of work permits, diplomats or other official visitors.
Panji said that besides the need for regional quarantines, the central government also must play an active role in advising local governments in taking the correct measures to curb the epidemic.
He argued that the current policy served only as the legal basis for mass social distancing but it was not an obligation, leaving the relevant local governments reluctant to make decisions.
“Regional administrations can prioritize different things for the same problem. I am afraid they will make the wrong decision -- like those who are hit hard but don’t propose social restrictions because of limited resources,” he said.
Article 2 states that regional proposals for large-scale social restrictions must be based on epidemiology, threat magnitude, effectiveness, supporting resources and operational, technical, political, economic, socio-cultural, defense and security considerations.
Panji said the central government needed to provide assistance to regional governments, including technical assistance and especially expert resources that could help assess their epidemiological situations.
“Rules are not enough. They need to make sure there are enough appropriate resources in the regions. In the meantime, they can assess whether certain virus-hit regions need large-scale social distancing before they make proposals,” he added.