The Jakarta Post
Claiming to have lowered coronavirus transmission rates, Jakarta has decided to ease large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) as they are extended to the end of June, although the capital is fully aware of the risks of a potential rebound in the number of new cases.
Governor Anies Baswedan cited on Thursday research data from the University of Indonesia (UI), which estimated that the daily reproduction number (Rt) of COVID-19 in Jakarta has decreased to 0.99 since June 1.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo previously stated that regions with reproduction numbers below 1.0 would be able to impose the so-called ‘new normal’ regime, which allows businesses to reopen as long as they enforce strict health rules.
Other indicators, such as the epidemiological trends of news cases and deaths, public health measures that include testing capacity as well as health facilities in Jakarta, had scored green, which allowed for the PSBB to be eased, Anies reported.
The governor, however, avoided the term “new normal” in his explanations, saying that by relaxing the PSBB, the capital would enter a period of “transitional PSBB”, which would lead toward a period of “safe, healthy and productive” social live. The transitional PSBB regime starts on Friday.
“We and the COVID-19 task force have decided to extend the PSBB status in Jakarta and determined that June will be the transition phase,” Anies said during a live-streamed press conference on Thursday.
Experts have expressed concern that the move to ease the PSBB under the “new normal” might come too soon, given the lack of reliable government data and the country’s low testing capacity, while the PSBB was not optimally imposed in the first place.
Anies admitted that easing the PSBB increased the risk of transmission but promised that stronger enforcement would be in place, with a regulation on sanctions for PSBB violations to remain in force.
“If we are not disciplined, [...] we could see cases surge as if we were returning to the past months. And if that happens, the Jakarta administration and the task force will not hesitate to stop socioeconomic activities during the transition period,” Anies said.
Several types of activity previously banned or restricted will be allowed to resume under the transitional PSBB, which will be divided into two stages.
The first stage entails the reopening of businesses and houses of worship, as well as allowing social and cultural activities and mobility of vehicles. The city, however, will apply the half-capacity policy in those areas of activity.
Offices, shops, restaurants, factories and city-owned small to medium businesses will be allowed to open at half capacity in the second week of June, while non-food businesses at markets and shopping centers will open in the third week.
Recreational parks, zoos, sport venues, museums, libraries, beaches and other public places will also be allowed to resume operations gradually.
Anies said that during the transition period, an “emergency brake policy” would be in place to stop the resumption of those activities should health protocols fail and cases numbers surge.
By the end of June, the first stage of “transition” will be evaluated, and the city will decide whether it’s time to proceed to the second stage, which includes the reopening of schools.
Since the first cases detected in early March, Jakarta has reported 7,690 COVID-19 positive cases, with 523 fatalities and 2,607 recoveries as of Thursday.
Anies claimed that the coronavirus reproduction rate in Jakarta had decreased rapidly after he imposed a work-from-home policy, closed schools and restricted mobility on March 16, even before the PSBB was put in place on April 10.
According to the UI research data quoted by the Jakarta administration, the curve of daily new cases in Jakarta has seen its peak in mid-April, while the curve of confirmed deaths has been declining since the end of April, compared to the accumulative numbers outside Jakarta that are spiking high.
Amid the push of the “new normal” narrative, the government has been worried about the increasing cases in at least three provinces: East Java – the country’s new epicenter of the coronavirus, South Sulawesi and South Kalimantan.
The UI research data also show that most parts of the capital are in the “green or yellow zone”. Out of about 2,700 community units, only 66 are reportedly still in the “red zone”, and hence will be excluded from the PSBB easing.
Anies claimed that the Jakarta administration had a complete set of epidemiological data and it was the “strength of the administration” that allowed officials to detect transmission, sorting, isolating and providing treatment.
Epidemiologist Pandu Riono, who also leads the research team, said that to prevent a surge of transmissions during the transition phase, residents should behave more safely, but – more importantly – each part of the city, from neighborhood units to districts, should create its own mechanism to impose strict health protocols.
The Health Ministry has issued a decree on “new normal” guidelines that stipulate new health protocols both during the PSBB and after the PSBB but are limited to businesses.
“Local heads in each area have to come up with their own mechanism to impose guidelines in their areas,” Pandu told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, adding that the Jakarta administration was obliged to isolate areas that fail to apply health protocol.