By Stanley Widianto and Kate Lamb
JAKARTA (Reuters) -President Joko Widodo said on Thursday that Indonesia will impose emergency measures until July 20 to contain an exponential spike in coronavirus cases that has strained the medical system.
There has been an alarming climb in virus cases in the world’s fourth most populous country in recent weeks, prompting warnings from health experts the outbreak could be as bad as India’s devastating second wave if tighter measures are not introduced.
“With cooperation from all of us and the grace of God, I’m certain that we can suppress COVID-19 transmission and restore people’s lives quickly,” said the president, who is known as Jokowi, as he announced the stricter measures.
The measures, from Saturday, aim to halve the number of daily virus cases to fewer than 10,000, and include tighter restrictions on movement and air travel, a ban on restaurant dining and the closure of non-essential offices.
They will be applied on the most populous island of Java and the holiday island of Bali.
Grappling with the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has reported record daily COVID-19 cases on seven of the past 11 days, including on Thursday, with 24,836 new infections and 504 deaths, both new highs.
Indonesia has recorded about 2.2 million cases overall and 58,995 deaths.
Health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin pledged to boost testing and said Australia was donating A$77 million ($57.7 million) to help buy vaccines and more would arrive soon, including four million shots of the Moderna Inc vaccine.
Indonesia, which has relied mostly on China’s Sinovac vaccine, aims to inoculate 181.5 million people by January but has only reached about 7.5% of that target.
Jokowi had long been reluctant to bring in measures that might hit the economy and news of the curbs pared gains on Indonesia’s main stock index.
The Indonesian chamber of commerce, Kadin, said while the curbs were needed they were coming just as an economic recovery was gaining traction.
The highly transmissible Delta variant that caused a spike in cases in India in April and May, overwhelming healthcare facilities and swamping crematoriums, is spreading in Indonesia.
Hospitals across crowded Java are being pushed to the brink. In the capital, Jakarta, some emergency wards have been moved to tents set up in hospital car parks to free up isolation rooms, while people queue up to buy oxygen tanks for sick relatives at home.
The bed occupancy rate in Jakarta’s hospitals hit 93% this week. Hospitals across Java are also nearly full.
Home affairs minister Tito Karnavian, told a news conference the restrictions would be evaluated after three weeks and could be extended if infections do not come down.
Some public health experts have, however, questioned how effective the selective emergency measures would be.
“If the government is half-hearted it will just remain the same,” said Defriman Djafri, an epidemiologist at Andalas University in Padang on Sumatra island.
Rather than implement a national lockdown, Indonesia has instead opted for localised restrictions in designated “red zones”, a plan the president previously said was designed to avoid “killing” the economy.
Before the restrictions were announced, Mercy Corps Indonesia expressed concern about the “dire situation”.
“Hospitals are overflowing, around one in five tests in Indonesia are reportedly coming back positive, and we’re experiencing more deaths now than at any point of the pandemic,” said Ade Soekadis, the aid agency’s country director.
“Worryingly, as we’ve seen in India and Nepal, we know it’s only going to get worse.”
(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Kate Lamb in Sydney; Editing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)