The Indonesian government has said that small businesses and some shopping malls may reopen despite warnings that loosening sidewalks could trigger another wave of Covid.
President Joko Widodo said the measures imposed in early July would continue until August 2 as the Delta variant spreads across the country, which has overtaken India and Brazil as the global epicenter of the virus.
Official case rates have dropped from more than 50,000 a day. But test rates have also declined, while the number of positive results remains high, suggesting that the virus is still spreading rapidly.
But he added that “adjustments” would be made to a closure that would close shopping malls, restaurants, parks and offices, including in the capital Jakarta, the island of Java and the resort island of Bali.
Traditional markets, street vendors and ubiquitous open-air restaurants known as warungs would be among the businesses allowed to reopen Monday with restrictions, even in the worst-hit areas.
Shopping malls and mosques in less affected areas would also receive the green light to open their doors to crowds and limited hours. The offices would remain subject to closure orders, the government said.A funeral worker in personal protective equipment places an offering on the coffin of a Covid-19 victim at the Bebalang Crematorium in Bangli Regency, Bali, Indonesia, on July 25, 2021. Photograph: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
However, there have been widespread reports of employers forcing non-essential employees to work even under the current lockdown.
Widodo, pointing to the daily drop in infection rates and hospital occupancy, said any loosening would be done “gradually and carefully.” The announcement came after Indonesia saw its 24-hour death toll hit a record 1,566 on Friday.
The World Health Organization has called on Indonesia to impose stricter restrictions against the virus. The Widodo government has been widely criticized for its handling of the pandemic and policies that seemed to prioritize the economy over public health.
“The government faces a dilemma because it has seen countries that focused on the economy put their public health at risk, while others that prioritized public health saw their economies battered,” said Arya Fernandes, a political analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“So they are trying to find a win-win solution by imposing restrictions but keeping the economy open.”
Indonesia’s vaccination levels remain well below the government’s goal of one million a day for July and only about 6% of its nearly 270 million people have been fully vaccinated.
“The lifting of the restrictions will bring more infections and deaths,” Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Australia’s Griffith University, told AFP before Sunday’s announcement.
“Restrictions must be in effect for a minimum of four weeks and [the government] you need to increase testing, tracking, and treatment to get maximum results. Otherwise, it is the same as having no restrictions. “
Indonesia has reported more than 3.1 million cases and 83,279 deaths since the pandemic began, but those official numbers are believed to be a very low tally.