Java on ‘red alert’ as coronavirus deaths spike in Indonesia

Covid-19 rapid tests
A health official arranges rapid test kits at the Indonesian Sports Council (KONI) office in Malang, East Java, on Tuesday. Image: Ari Bowo Sucipto/JP/Antara

By Ardila Syakriah, Arya Dipa, Asip Hasani and Suherdjoko in Jakarta/Bandung/Blitar/Semarang

Indonesia’s most populous island of Java has become the country’s epicentre of the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, prompting calls for heightened containment efforts, including by imposing large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in the entire region.

All six provinces on the island, home to some 151 million people and covers just 7 percent of the archipelago’s area, have become red zones for covid-19 infections.

Leading the central government’s tally is Jakarta, with 5,554 cases and 449 deaths as of Wednesday. East Java follows with 1,772 cases and 163 deaths, West Java 1,556 cases and 98 deaths, Central Java 1,023 cases and 66 deaths, Banten 580 cases and 57 deaths and Yogyakarta 181 cases and seven deaths.

READ MORE: Indonesia’s latest official COVID-19 figures

In total, the key island to Indonesia’s industrial and political scenes has seen 10,666 cases or some 69 percent of the country’s total number of cases and 81 percent of total fatalities at 1,028. Java’s 1,991 recovered patients, meanwhile, make up 60 percent of the 3,287 recoveries in the country.

However, even with the eyebrow-raising figures, only Jakarta and West Java have imposed PSBB measures so far. Other provinces have implemented the policy in part, namely Greater Surabaya and Greater Malang in East Java; Tangerang city, Tangerang regency and South Tangerang city in Banten; as well as Tegal city in Central Java.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo raised concerns about Java’s struggle to contain covid-19 during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday to evaluate the PSBB measures. He urged the covid-19 national task force to ensure effective containment efforts in Java’s five provinces that are recording the highest number of cases.

“Especially within the next two weeks, our chances are probably until the Idul Fitri day. We must make the most of it,” Jokowi said while warning against easing restrictions too soon.

Lifting restrictions plan criticised
Jokowi’s statement comes amid criticism over the government’s possible plan to gradually lift restrictions from June, as well as confusing exemptions on travel bans based on claims that some regions had seen a flattening of the curve of infections.

During a separate hearing with the House of Representatives on Tuesday, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) chief secretary Harmensyah highlighted the need for all of Java to declare a PSBB status.

“We need to impose the PSBB policy throughout Java to suppress [transmission],” he said.

Experts believe PSBB measures have contributed to slowing down the transmission of covid-19, but measuring the policy’s efficacy would require timely data on new transmissions that relies largely on testing capacity, among other things.

The East Java administration has extended Greater Surabaya’s PSBB status until May 25. The administration discovered a recent spike in infection clusters to 72, mainly in Surabaya and among homebound travelers from Jakarta.

East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa said on Wednesday she would further consult with her team of epidemiologists on whether implementing PSBB measures across the province would prove to be necessary.

Meanwhile, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo said on Tuesday that his administration was ready to implement PSBB if it was instructed by the central government. However, he also emphasised that it would have to first calculate the possible impacts.

Still tracing people
The administration is still trying to trace 1,116 of some 1,500 people who attended an international tabligh (Islamic mass gathering) in South Sulawesi, after at least 16 Brebes residents tested positive upon returning.

Jakarta, which had implemented the PSBB since April 10, has extended its restrictions until May 22. Governor Anies Baswedan previously conceded that there were gatherings and people defying rules, including when hundreds flocked to McDonald’s Sarinah in Central Jakarta to be part of the restaurant’s final day of operating on Sunday.

The following day, the city administration issued a new decree regulating sanctions for PSBB violators, which range from community service to administrative fines.

In West Java, the administration declared it would implement PSBB measures from May 6 to 19, after initially only placing restrictions on Greater Bandung.

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil claimed on Monday during an online discussion with ambassadors that the province’s effective viral reproduction number (Re) had declined from 1.28 points before the PSBB to 1.06 post-PSBB.

Ghina Ghaliya contributed to this Jakarta Post story.

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