A man passes by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo poster at Tanah Abang train station in Jakarta on Aug. 27. (Antara Photo/M Risyal Hidayat)

Health Takes Precedence Over Economy: Jokowi


SEPTEMBER 08, 2020

Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has reminded his ministers and the regional governments on Monday to focus on reining in the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, which he said was key for Indonesia's economic recovery. 

The comment marked a shifting focus in the economic-minded administration whose push for reopening in the past two months has resulted in spikes in the number of new cases leads to thousands of deaths, including hundreds of medical doctors and nurses, and overcrowded hospitals.

"The first thing I need to remind you, once again, is that the key to our economy to improve is good health," said Jokowi.

"We want to restart the economy as soon as possible. Let not neglect the health problem because if we do not handle it properly and restart our economy, it will be disastrous," Jokowi said. 

The government has relaxed the travel and large scale social restriction since June, allowing offices, manufacturing plants, shopping malls, recreation parks, and places of worship to operate at half of capacity, while asking them to impose strict health protocol on workers, tenants, or visitors. 

But, the plan did not work as the government had hoped. Indonesia reported 2,880 new cases on Monday, following the country's worst week that saw more than 3,000 additional cases daily.

The most populous country in Southeast Asia now has a total of 48,207 active cases since the government announced the first two cases in March. The number of active cases has been spiking in the past three weeks after two long weekends mid-August as may Indonesians went on travels during the Independence Day and Islamic New Year holidays. 

As of Monday, Indonesia has reported a total of 8,130 deaths, with the past two weeks accounted for 17 percent of the total. The Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) said 107 members had died so far due to Covid-19, reflecting a heightened pressure on the country's healthcare system.

The Health Ministry data showed close to half of the isolated beds reserved to Covid-19 patients have filed up across the country on Sep 5, with Bali and Jakarta exceeded the ideal occupancy rate of 80 percent. 

In contrast, with all of the efforts to relaxed restrictions, Indonesia's economy only showed signs akin to a slow recovery rather than a quick bounce back. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said she expected another slump in the third quarter, following a record low of 4.19 percent contraction in the second quarter.

The inflation slowed down further to 1.3 percent in August, from 1.5 percent a month earlier, showing consumers were still reluctant to spend their money. 

"There is a quite convincing reversal from May, but the momentum is not something that should be taken for granted. That means that we must maintain the momentum of the recovery because it is still very early and still very fragile," Sri Mulyani said. 

This year Indonesia expected its gross domestic product to shrink by 1.1 percent in its worst scenario or barely expanded at 0.2 percent in the best scenario.