The Jakarta Post
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has accused the central government of stonewalling his efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus by issuing a ministerial regulation that prevents him from directly imposing stricter measures to limit people’s mobility.
Under pressure to control rising case numbers and fatalities in the capital, Anies strongly criticized the Health Ministry’s new guidelines on large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) that include an assessment process and show “no sense of urgency”.
“[It’s] as if we are proposing a project that needs a feasibility study,” Anies told The Jakarta Post on Sunday. “Can’t the ministry see that we are facing a rising death toll? Is that not enough?”
Earlier this week, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that, in lieu of a regional or national lockdown, regions could enforce physical distancing rules in their fight against COVID-19.
According to Government Regulation No. 21/2020 on PSBB, provinces and cities are required to obtain a permit from the Health Ministry to impose the policy. As of Sunday, no region has obtained such a permit.
According to a ministerial regulation issued by the Health Ministry on Friday, regional heads who want to enact PSBB have to submit requests alongside data on the increase of cases by also providing an epidemiology curve and a map on the spread of the virus as well as data proving that transmission had already occurred in their region. Cases in question refer to the number of patients under surveillance (PDP) and those having been confirmed through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
The request would then be discussed by an expert team appointed by the health minister, which would approve or deny the request in consultation with COVID-19 fast response team chief Doni Monardo, who also heads the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB). Other than regional leaders, the COVID-19 fast response team chief can also submit such a request.
The Health Ministry must make a decision within two days after the submission of the request, the regulation says. The PSBB should then be implemented for 14 days, which can be extended if there are still proven cases of transmission. The PSBB covers the closing down of schools and offices, limitations of religious activities, activities in public places, social and cultural events, transportation restrictions and activities related to security and defense.
Anies said he had sent a PSBB request to Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto on Wednesday before the ministerial regulation was issued and would wait for an answer instead of sending a new letter. The request was being discussed by the Health Ministry’s team on Sunday afternoon.
How Anies held back in coronavirus response (JP/Hengky)
According to the government’s official count, there are 2,273 confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide as of Sunday, including 1,124 in Jakarta. Ninety-five of the country’s 198 fatalities were recorded in Jakarta.
Padjadjaran University epidemiologist Panji Hadisoemarto said the procedure to obtain the PSBB status was “overly bureaucratic”. He feared local administrations would be late in taking necessary measures, as they failed to immediately meet the requirements imposed by the regulation.
“The criteria imposed are too restrictive, especially by referring to cases as those confirmed through PCR testing. In practice, it’s very likely that decisions will be made too late, because there’s a bottleneck in our PCR testing,” Panji said.
Indonesia has conducted fewer than 10,000 tests using the PCR method so far, a small number that has been attributed to insufficient preparedness on the part of laboratories and a shortage of PCR testing kits. This has caused a backlog in testing, with many patients having to wait for days for their lab results to come back.
Berry Juliandi of the Indonesian Young Scientists Forum criticized the new regulation that gives the Health Ministry the authority over PSBB policies. “We’ve seen that the health minister has not taken the right measures to contain and mitigate COVID-19 so far,” Berry said.
Bayu Dwi Anggono, a legal expert at the University of Jember in East Java, said requiring mayors and regents to consult with governors and also send their request to the latter instead of only to the Health Ministry would only increase paperwork, since the requirement was not stipulated in the 2018 Law on Health Quarantine nor in the 2020 government regulation.
The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.