Coronavirus: Indonesia opts for "area quarantine" to limit movements as infections rise

JAKARTA – Indonesia looks set to adopt a measure dubbed as an “area quarantine” in response to a growing clamour for local lockdowns in certain hotspots, cities or provinces to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The world’s largest archipelago, comprising of more than 17,000 islands, has 34 provinces and more than 500 regencies and towns. Indonesia is also the world’s fourth most populous country with nearly 270 million people.

In a video message distributed to reporters on Saturday (March 28), coordinating political, legal and security minister Prof Mahfud M.D. described “area quarantine” as a term reflecting physical or social distancing measures adopted by the government.

“We will not impose a lockdown, but we will impose an area quarantine. People often associate area quarantines and lockdowns, where in fact they are different,” he said.

Many observers including urban planning expert Yayat Supriatna however believe the move would be akin to a lockdown in all but name as the government was trying to avoid the term for fear of triggering a panic.

Under current laws, the government can issue detailed regulations during a quarantine period including how food supply should be distributed and to whom.

“It’s more like a semi-lockdown. Total lockdowns wouldn’t work in Indonesia,” Mr Yayat told The Straits Times.

He said the government is taking a gated-community approach, where various levels of communities from sub-regencies, regencies and cities may decide their own perimeters of what to do and what not to do.

Each community would know how urgent their respective condition was with regards to the spreading of the coronavirus, and how stringent limitations needed to be put in place, Mr Yayat said.

A red zone community, with a high number of infections, would have maximum restraints imposed like that of a total lockdown, he added.

Indonesia reported 153 new cases on Friday, the highest single-day jump, bringing the total number of infections to 1,046. Another nine people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, bringing the total number of fatalities in Indonesia to 87, the highest in South-east Asia.

The capital, Jakarta, is the worst hit with 598 infections, followed by the provinces of West Java, Banten and East Java which have reported 98, 84 and 66 cases respectively.

The government has already appealed to Indonesians to adopt social distancing measures and advised citizens to work, study as well as worship at home.

But experts say the measures may not be enough to stop the virus from spreading in the vast country.

Dozens of members of the Medical Professors Council of the University of Indonesia’s Faculty of Medicine have issued a statement calling for “local lockdowns”, saying the government-imposed physical distancing measures were ineffective, The Jakarta Post had earlier reported.

Kompas daily on Saturday quoted Mr Ede Surya, head of the Indonesian Public Health Association (IAKMI), as saying that the government must guarantee the supply of basic essentials for residents, provide transportation to and from hospitals, and apply strict monitoring if an area quarantine was imposed.

Meanwhile, the national election commission (KPU) has decided to postpone several key prerequisite steps leading to the Sept 23 regional elections in nine of 34 provinces and in half of the more than 500 regencies and towns. KPU is evaluating whether it needs to change the poll date.

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