The Jakarta Post
Jakarta officially extended its period of COVID-19 social restrictions by another 14 days late on Thursday, amid the continued threat of viral transmission that has led experts to demand better containment efforts and stricter punishment for violators of protocol.
The city administration has met the World Health Organization’s (WHO) requirement for the minimum daily number of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and is confident with its services and the preparedness of health facilities, even as Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said the city’s epidemiological data on infections suggested that cases were still on the rise.
"The effective reproduction number [Rt] has increased; we have for a while been [hovering] below 1. The figure stands at 1.15 as of Monday, [...] which indicates an acceleration in COVID-19 transmission,” Anies said during a press conference livestreamed on Thursday evening.
“Therefore, it would be very risky to further ease restrictions and enter the next phase [of transition].”
Rt refers to the number of people who can catch the disease from a single infected person in a given population sample.
Jakarta first extended its period of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) on June 4 to early July, describing it as a "transitional" phase underpinned by the gradual reopening of several essential services sectors. At the time, the administration extended the curbs until July 16.
Earlier this week, Anies said the administration might have to "pull the emergency brake" on the policy if cases continued to soar. He hinted that it may lead to the reinstatement of a stricter PSBB regime. The statement comes after the city recorded the highest number of daily new cases.
Anies argued the spike was a result of a higher number of tests performed: 3,600 and 3,194 people tested per 1 million population in each period between July 9-15 and July 2-8.
The total number of new cases reported during the two-week extension in July was 3,846, equal to over 90 percent of confirmed cases during the month-long transitional phase in June (4,181 cases).
The total number of people tested during the two-week extension period was 67,283 – just 60 percent of the number of people tested in the previous month alone, according to data compiled by The Jakarta Post.
Biostatistician Iwan Ariawan of the University of Indonesia's Public Health School said the faculty's team had recommended that the administration either restore the stricter PSBB regime or continue with the transitional phase, while also placing an emphasis on stronger efforts to improve the implementation of health protocols.
He cited a joint survey of the Lapor COVID-19 community movement and Nanyang Technological University’s Social Resilience Lab published earlier this month on people’s risk perception on the outbreak.
The survey interviewed 154,471 people in Jakarta with questions such as how likely respondents thought they were to get infected with the disease. About 77 percent of respondents believed they were "unlikely" to get infected.
“We cannot expect people to consistently implement health protocols if they still [underestimate the risks],” he said.
Jakarta Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) head Arifin has admitted that more people are flaunting the rules – like not wearing a mask – during the transitional phase, especially in wet markets and residential areas.
“People have probably been feeling worn out. Economic factors have also resulted in people’s higher mobility,” he said.
The agency has punished 25,070 people not wearing masks since April, broken down into 1,708 who paid the fine outright and 23,362 who had to do community service tasks such as cleaning gutters and streets. More people fell into the latter category because they could not afford to pay the fine, Arifin said.
The agency has collected Rp 572.16 million (US$39,804) in fines, with Rp 310.81 million just from individuals who failed to wear a mask. The remainder was collected from businesses and offices that neglected the health protocols.
Iwan of the University of Indonesia called on the administration to put in more effort in the new transitional period, especially communicating to the public about the disease to improve obedience in following basic protocols.
“If the current situation remains – meaning behaviors do not improve – it would take a very long time for the [infection] curve to flatten. We predict that it won't even end by December,” he said.
Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria told a local broadcaster on Thursday that there would not be any change in the existing regulations.
The administration’s strategy was to postpone plans to reopen certain sectors like movie theaters and indoor entertainment venues, deploy more security personnel across the city and to keep improving testing, he said.
On the other hand, the administration has waived the exit and entry permit (SIKM) requirement for intercity travelers, beginning July 17. The effectiveness of the policy had significantly declined after the transitional phase began and when the central government eased travel restrictions, the city’s transportation agency head Syafrin Liputo said in a statement.
Hermawan Saputra, a public health expert at the Muhammadiyah Prof. Dr. Hamka University, demanded that the administration reevaluate the sectors that have been reopened in a limited manner to fulfill essential needs and to consistently enforce health protocols.
As a possible deterrent for violators, Satpol PP’s Arifin said the agency would prioritize fining people and increase the length and burden of community service punishment.
The head of the Indonesian Public Health Expert Association’s (IAKMI) Jakarta branch, Baequni, argued that punitive measures should have been preceded by proper education on health behaviors, a measure that he deemed as lacking since the outbreak swept through the city.
Proper education includes guidance and a continuous evaluation of health behaviors at the grassroots level, instead of merely reminding people to follow health protocols. External intervention from professionals would prompt a better "psychological effect" toward behavioral change, he said.
"We cannot live in a cage forever [...] but we have yet to put in sufficient effort [to instill a culture of public health awareness]," he said. "It is okay to punish people if we have provided them with guidance from the outset. Otherwise, people may be tempted to resist the authority at some point.”