Jakarta, the country’s first epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, is mulling whether to reimpose restrictions it previously eased as the daily number of new cases hits new records.
Jakarta reported 281 new cases on Monday, making a total of 14,797 cases and 697 deaths so far. This figure was among the city’s record daily highs since the outbreak hit, the fifth-largest after 404 on Sunday, 378 on Saturday, 357 on Wednesday and 284 on Thursday.
The latest daily records came a day after Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said the city might consider tightening its large-scale social restrictions (PSBB). Jakarta has gradually relaxed restrictions since June 4 in the hope of easing economic suffering, with businesses and offices reopening under new health protocols. It has also reopened public green spaces and outdoor tourist destinations.
"If this continues, we may have to return to [social restrictions]. […] Do not let this situation reach the point where we have to pull the emergency brake,” Anies said on Sunday.
The emergency brake policy would see a restoration of stricter PSBB, which had allowed only eight essential sectors to operate during the pandemic.
“If that happens, we all have to go back home, and economic, religious and social activities will be halted,” Anies said.
He acknowledged the persistent outbreak in Jakarta, saying that while most of the new cases were the result of the administration’s massive “active case finding” efforts, the city's positivity rate -- the number of people who test positive divided by the total number tested -- has caused concern.
Jakarta’s weekly positivity rate had consistently been below 5 percent since the beginning of June, in line with one of the World Health Organization’s requirements for regions seeking to enter the so-called “new normal”.
However, the positivity rate on Saturday was recorded at 7.1 percent and 9.6 percent on Sunday, with a weekly average of 5.7 percent last week.
“That is why I want to tell all Jakartans: do not take this lightly. Do not feel like we are free of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Anies said.
Jakarta authorities said 45.2 percent of the total cases were patients taking tests in hospitals, 38.4 percent were people taking tests in residential areas, including people living in densely populated areas and areas with high incidence rates, and 6.8 percent in wet markets, including among vendors.
With the outbreak showing no signs of abating, Anies warned the public to maintain their daily routines with extra caution in vulnerable hot spots: public transit and wet markets.
The increasing number of daily cases in Jakarta, one out of eight provinces with similar trends, has gained the attention of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who, on Monday, reportedly said that reimposing restrictions had always been on the table.
“The President has always reminded [authorities] to pull the brake proportionally,” national COVID-19 task force chief Doni Monardo said on Monday. “If cases surge, then pull the brake. But not all activities should be completely suspended. It needs to be limited in terms of timing of activities and number of people involved.”
Hermawan Saputra from the Indonesian Public Health Expert Association (IAKMI) criticized Jakarta’s easing of restrictions on activities not directly related to fulfilling primary needs.
"[A policy] has to be flexible to a certain degree. In terms of the pandemic, it can be applied to economic activities aimed at ensuring the fulfillment of basic necessities, efforts to encourage the informal sector and medium businesses, but not all activities," he said.
Jakarta’s recent move to reopen tourism spots and weekly events like the Car-Free Day was therefore unnecessary, Hermawan said.
Hariadi Wibisono, the Indonesian Epidemiologists Association (PAEI) chairman, said the Jakarta administration should not hesitate to reimpose restrictions if necessary, saying such a U-turn “is part of decision making and not a display of inconsistency because every decision needs evaluation”.
Epidemiologist Pandu Riono from the University of Indonesia's School of Public Health said, however, returning to strict restrictions without stern enforcement of health protocols was not a solution to the new transmission problem.
"If we go back [under the stricter PSBB] but people continue to fail to abide [by the restrictions], it would not change anything much," he said.
In addition, he called for cities in Greater Jakarta to implement strict health protocols as many commuters might carry the virus without symptoms.
The experts said the government should also involve local figures in promoting the importance of implementing health protocols and in reaching out to the wider public to prevent misconceptions that mask-wearing and social distancing were no longer needed.