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Mixed signals on Covid-19 restrictions in Indonesia

Central govt relaxes rules for state employees while Jakarta governor extends strict measures as infections rise

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Mixed signals on Covid-19 restrictions in Indonesia

Civil servants attend a flag-raising ceremony in Jakarta. The government will allow state employees under 45 to return to their workplaces on May 25 despite the Covid-19 pandemic showing no sign of slowing. (Photo courtesy of Setkab.go.id)

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Indonesia has started to relax Covid-19 restrictions by allowing state employees under the age of 45 to return to their workplaces. Older employees, however, will have to remain working remotely.

The move came as Jakarta's governor extended restrictions in the capital. 

The government's decision was made despite the country continuing to record hundreds of new Covid-19 cases each day. As of May 20, Indonesia had recorded 19,189 confirmed infections and 1,242 deaths. New cases currently range from 300 to 600 each day.

State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Tjahjo Kumolo have issued circulars instructing government workers to return to their workplaces on May 25 following a recommendation by the Covid-19 Task Force.

"Health protocols, such as physical distancing, will be strictly imposed,” Thohir said.

Task force chief Doni Monardo said younger people were less prone to infection and had shown stronger resistance to the virus. "Those under the age of 45 are physically healthier. If they are exposed [to Covid-19], they will not be badly affected," Monardo said. 

Most people who have died of Covid-19 were people aged over 45, with the over-65s accounting for 45 percent of all deaths, he added.

The move has caused some anxiety among state employees and public servants.

A Religious Affairs Ministry official in Jakarta, identified only as Joseph, said returning to his office worried him. “The virus can be caught from people who do not show any symptoms,” he said. “I’m afraid I will infect my family at home.”

Dr. Felix Gunawan, director of the Association of Voluntary Health Services of Indonesia, also expressed some concerns.

He acknowledged that people under 45 are stronger but said allowing them to return to workplaces was not without risk. He echoed fears that people could become infected at work and transmit the virus to relatives.     

Dr. Gunawan suggested delaying the move until new cases drop.

Meanwhile, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has decided to extend large-scale social restrictions in the Indonesian capital to June 4 as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the city continues to rise.

It is the second time authorities in Jakarta have extended anti-coronavirus measures designed to limit travel and mobility and encourage people to stay at home. The first extension came on April 22 for a further 28 days after the restrictions were first imposed on April 10.

The governor appeared to blame the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for the failure to curb new infections.

“The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has increased each day over the past month as if we are going to face a second wave of the pandemic,” the governor told a press briefing on May 19.

Ramadan started on April 24 and will end with Eid al-Fitr on May 24.

“It [the rise] began to happen particularly during the holy month of Ramadan when people started to spend more time outside during the afternoons and evenings,” Baswedan added.

“I want all people in Jakarta to be disciplined in the coming days. Even though we are still observing Ramadan, we need to stay at home with our families.”

As of May 20, Jakarta had recorded 6,150 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 493 deaths.

President Joko Widodo stressed the need for all Indonesians to be disciplined to help curb the pandemic. 

“I often say this. The key to curbing the spread of Covid-19 is our discipline. We wash our hands regularly, we pay attention to physical distancing, we wear face masks, and we avoid crowds,” he told a cabinet meeting on May 19. 

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