As Indonesia mulls easing COVID-19 lockdown, WHO urges tougher restrictions

JAKARTA (CNA) – The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday urged Indonesia to implement a stricter and wider lockdown to combat surging COVID-19 infections and deaths, just days after the country’s president flagged the easing of restrictions.

Indonesia has become one of the epicentres of the global pandemic in recent weeks, with positive COVID-19 cases leaping five-fold in the past five weeks. This week, daily deaths hit record highs over 1,400, among the highest tolls in the world.

In its latest situation report, the WHO said strict implementation of public health and social restrictions were crucial and called for additional “urgent action” to address sharp rises in infections in 13 provinces.

“Indonesia is currently facing a very high transmission level, and it is indicative of the utmost importance of implementing stringent public health and social measures, especially movement restrictions, throughout the country,” it said.

Under Indonesia’s partial lockdown, social restrictions such as work-from-home and closed malls are limited to the islands of Java and Bali and small pockets in other parts of the country.

Large sectors of the economy deemed critical or essential are exempt from most, or some, of the lockdown measures. On Tuesday, President Joko Widodo flagged an easing of restrictions from next week, citing official data showing a fall in infections in recent days, which epidemiologists said has been driven by a drop in testing from already low levels.

Indonesia’s daily positivity rate, the proportion of people tested who are infected, has averaged 30 per cent over the past week even as cases numbers have fallen. A level above 20 per cent meant “very high” transmissibility, the WHO said.

All but one of Indonesia’s provinces have a positivity rate above 20 per cent, with the outlier, Aceh, at 19 per cent, the WHO said.

People queue up to refill their oxygen tanks at a charging station in Jakarta, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP