THE DELTA VARIANT
Commentary by Wayne Forrest
It pains me to pen another COVID commentary 18 months since the first. Its not something I expected to do even after cases were predicted to rise after the May mudik, the annual return of Indonesians in cities to their families in more rural communities. But here we are, Indonesia just set a world record for the number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day (over 20,000) since the pandemic began in 2020. Hospitals across the country are at 100% capacity, tents have been erected to handle the overflow and volunteers are being asked to donate ancillary goods and services. President Jokowi, after an initial reticence, has been forced to enact stricter measures that will have a side effect he has struggled to avoid: closing parts of the economy. This all comes in stark contrast to the US where many of us are traveling again and returning to our offices.
The new rules, deemed “emergency public restrictions”, released today begin July 3, apply to areas of high transmission (“red zones”) in Java and Bali, and will last until July 20. These would include many but not all major cities and large towns. Not yet finalized, there could be further modifications in the days ahead.
· 100% work from home except essential and critical sectors
· For essential sectors: 50% maximum in office with health protocols (distancing/masks)
· For critical sectors: 100% can be in office with health protocols.
· Essential sectors: finance/banking, capital markets and payment systems, information and communications technology, non-quarantine hotels, and export-oriented industries
· Critical sectors: energy, health, security, logistics/transportation, food/staples and beverage, petrochemicals, cement, disaster management, construction, national strategic projects, electricity, and water transmission
· Supermarkets and traditional markets cannot remain open past 8:00 pm and are limited to 50% capacity.
· All educational activities must be carried out only online.
· Public transport (taxi, train, bus, rental) limited to 70% with strict health protocols.
· Passengers on domestic flights must show a vaccine card (at least one dose) and evidence of a PCR test.
· The Tourism Minister has delayed Bali’s July re-opening until later in August but will be watching COVID levels carefully.
Facilities temporarily closed are:
· Shopping malls, trade centers, movie theaters
· Art/cultural, performances/concerts, sports and social activities
· Public areas, parks and tourist attractions
· Places of worship (mosques, churches, prayer rooms)
· Restaurants: open only for take away or delivery
The highly transmissible Delta variant is thought to be behind the recent outbreak, but other factors have surely been at play. One is vaccine resistance, a problem not unique to Indonesia. “Its God plan not the government’s that is important” is a phrase commonly heard. Another is the long-standing policy of the government to minimize the impact of the pandemic on the livelihoods of the 60% of Indonesians who are not employed formally. Their only option to pay for daily needs is labor for end-of-the-day cash wages. To keep this segment of society locked down is nigh impossible. Testing and tracing have never reached the intended level and vaccine supplies, especially Astra Zeneca made in India, have also been slower to arrive. (50 million Pfizer doses will begin arriving in August).
Indonesia officials report that only 8% of the 183 million people in the target pool (based on age and health status) have been vaccinated. President Jokowi has set an ambitious 70% rate in priority cities (such as Jakarta) and regions (such as Bali) for no later than August 2021.
Indonesia stands in July 2021 much like it did in May 2020 as the first COVID wave washed over the country. This second wave will have its consequences on travel and the economy, no doubt, but at least we have vaccines and therapies. Whats uncertain is how long it will be before high levels of immunity are achieved as well as where they occur. It may be possible to reach the President’s goal in Jakarta and tourist zones in Bali this year and other well-governed regions such as Yogyakarta. But I fear that many of the elements that repeat the transmission cycle, reluctance to impose full lockdowns, vaccine resistance, and lack of adequate testing and tracing, will remain for some time, maybe even years. We all need to adjust our expectations and maintain our businesses within this “new normal”. We have no other choice.
(These views are the author’s and may not reflect those of AICC or its members.)