JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday (Mar 31) declared the country to be in a state of “public health emergency”, while signing a government regulation that would pave the way for cities and provinces to impose “large-scale social restrictions” to curb the spread of COVID-19.  

The government regulation provides a legal basis for cities and provinces to shut down non-essential services, limit religious and social gatherings, as well as restrict people’s movements.

Under the new regulation, Mr Widodo has pledged to ensure that pharmacies and stores selling basic necessities would still remain open. Also, health workers, police and military personnel, as well as public officials will be allowed to move around freely.

However, there are still other implementation details that have yet to be announced by the authorities. 

Here is a look at what could happen next:

SOCIAL RESTRICTIONS NOT A NEW CONCEPT

The term “large-scale social restrictions” is actually not new in Indonesia’s context. It is stipulated in the 2018 Law on Health Quarantine.

The law provides a number of options the government can take, the most extreme being “regional quarantine”. Under this quarantine, no one can go in and out of certain areas while people have to stay indoors at all times.

Indonesian leader Joko Widodo has resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown AFP/Hafidz Mubarak A

However, it is believed that Mr Widodo may favour the less drastic social restrictions approach, as he feels it is the most suitable solution for now.

In order for the restrictions to be put in place, the central government must first declare the country to be in a state of “public health emergency”, which the president did on Tuesday.

CITIES AND PROVINCES TO FORMULATE OWN MEASURES

With the regulation issued, it is now up to cities and provinces to decide whether they want to implement the restrictions or not.

READ: Restrictions on movements in some Southeast Asian countries to fight COVID-19 have been patchy, even scary, a commentary 

If they do, the law says the respective regional governments must at the very least close schools, businesses, offices and other non-essential services. They also have to limit religious and social activities in houses of worships and public spaces.

The law does not prescribe a limit to what a city or a province can do to stop the spread of the deadly disease.

However, cities and provinces will need to consult Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto and chief of the government task force on COVID-19, General Doni Monardo, before they can implement the restrictions.

The minister can reject the proposed measures entirely or ask cities and provinces to scale down the measures.

READ: The 79-year-old Indonesian doctor on the frontline of COVID-19 pandemic

“I have instructed the heads of regions to refrain from making uncoordinated independent policies. All the regional policies should comply with the regulations, stay in the corridor of the Law, Government Regulation and the Presidential Decree,” Mr Widodo said on Tuesday. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the central government is still reviewing proposals submitted by mayors and governors regarding the restrictions.

Family members of a COVID-19 victim mourn during a funeral in Jakarta

Family members of a COVID-19 victim mourn during a funeral in Jakarta, Indonesia on Mar 31, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Bay Ismoyo)

REGULATION PROVIDES BASIS FOR LEGAL ENFORCEMENT

The new regulation provides a legal basis for cities and provinces to force businesses and offices to close and stop telling their workers to come to work.

With the regulation, fines could be imposed or arrests could be made for those who insist on staging large religious or social gatherings.

READ: Without major intervention, Indonesia could have 71,000 COVID-19 cases by end-April, a commentary

Before the regulation was finalised, city and provincial governments could only urge companies to have their employees to work from home and call on mosques and churches to avoid Friday prayers or Sunday services.

As a result, some companies still asked their workers to go to the office, while some mosques continued to hold Friday prayers.

Muslim organisations in Indonesia called for Friday prayers to be carried out at home -- though many

Muslim organisations in Indonesia called for Friday prayers to be carried out at home — though many ignored the advice AFP/Juni Kriswanto

NEED FOR COORDINATION BETWEEN JAKARTA AND REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS: EXPERT

Public health expert Hermawan Saputra told CNA that the regulation should have been issued a long time ago and not when the number of cases have passed 1,600.

“(The government) is a bit late, given the fact that the law already exists and the options are available,” Dr Saputra said.

“Medical workers across Indonesia have been calling for a real effort to ensure that people stay at home, avoid large crowds and not make unnecessary travel. That is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

On Wednesday, the number of cases exceeded 1,600 with more than 150 deaths.

Dr Saputra noted that under the regulation, the central government cannot force regional administrations to implement the restrictions if they are reluctant to do so.

The regulation also fails to address possible jurisdiction issues, the public health expert added.

A view of almost empty main road amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta

FILE PHOTO – A view of almost empty main road amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

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“If Jakarta imposes tough measures while its surrounding provinces of Banten and West Java don’t, it will be all for nothing,” he said. “There needs to be a coordinated effort led by the central government and not have regional leaders taking different approaches and measures.”

Dr Adib Khumaidi, the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association said it all comes down to how these restrictions are implemented. 

“No matter what policies they choose to adopt, if they are not implemented properly and people can still travel and mingle, it will be pointless,” he said.

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