Indonesia is facing a “COVID-19 tsunami” that is affecting families throughout the archipelago. While all of Southeast Asia has seen an uptick of cases in recent weeks, Indonesia has seen the sharpest spike and is widely regarded as the current global epicenter.
On Wednesday, July 28, Indonesia tallied over 45,000 cases — an alarming 15,000 more than the previous day. On the same day, the country recorded 2,069 known deaths, the highest to date. With nearly 87,000 total deaths and no end in sight due to the highly contagious Delta variant, many citizens are criticizing the government for their seemingly inadequate response to the pandemic and lack of socio-economic support amid tightened COVID-19 restrictions.
In recent weeks, protests have broken out across the country against the government-imposed PPKM lockdowns.
A protest outside the Bandung city council against the #COVID19 restriction in Indonesia. Lockdown obviously affect jobs, food. Many Indonesians still remember the Asian economic crisis turn violence in 1997-2004 🇮🇩 https://t.co/AMDkRHvpmj https://t.co/xETc6M0Aji
— Andreas Harsono (@andreasharsono) July 21, 2021
On July 3, Indonesia implemented an emergency multi-tiered public activity restriction program (PPKM) to curb the spread of the virus. For the last month, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, and Bali, the regions with the highest COVID-19 rates, each had level 4 restrictions. This included social distancing measures, restricted travel and indoor dining, an 8 pm curfew, and a work-from-home mandate for non-essential workers, among other measures.
The restrictions were partly in preparation for Eid al-Adha on Monday, July 19, one of the major Islamic holidays. Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world and often witnesses mass migration during Eid as citizens visit friends and family members across the region.
Officials hoped to tamp down on domestic travel during the period after a May lockdown during Eid al-Futri proved relatively unsuccessful, resulting in a case spike.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s hospitals have been filling up and oxygen supplies running out. Last week Jakarta’s hospitals were at 73 percent capacity and Bali’s are currently at 80 percent. Families report desperation and hopelessness as hospitals run out of oxygen, and in early July, Yogyakarta’s Dr. Sardjito General Hospital saw a tragic 63 COVID-19 patients die outside the hospital while waiting for beds and treatment.
Indonesian media collaborate to investigate the death of 60+ patients in Sardjito Hospital, Yogyakarta, allegedly due to the oxygen shortage. Before, the hospital management denied the case. https://t.co/N64sxcIcDp
— Febriana Firdaus (@febrofirdaus) July 22, 2021
The government is also struggling with a sluggish COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Only 6.9 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, about 64 million out of 276 million people. To complicate matters, most of Indonesia’s vaccinated populations — including healthcare workers — were vaccinated with Sinovac, which has proven to be less effective against the more aggressive Delta variant.
As of June 26, Indonesia extended its COVID-19 restrictions until August 2 but downgraded them from level 4 to level 3, allowing traditional markets, mosques, and malls to reopen, permitting some indoor dining, and extending the curfew to 9 pm. Though Indonesia's cases are on the rise, Indonesia's Finance Minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati said in a statement that they are trying to protect people while considering the country's economy.
The move to extend follows much criticism and protests as citizens faced economic and social hardships due to the lockdown. Many netizens have turned to Twitter to note the lack of governmental support amid the COVID restrictions.
Indonesian protest for not extending the lockdown is due to the lack of social and financial help from the government. That came from desperation. It's a very different context from anti-vaccine and anti-mask protest in many global north countries.
— kevin ng (黄協龍) (@sandhatu) July 25, 2021
According to Jakarta Legal Aid director, Asfinawati, many suspect the government has continually avoided labeling the COVID-19 restrictions a “lockdown” because the label would require them to provide citizens increased social benefits and support, as per their laws on quarantine and public health.
Yuni, who works as a cleaner in Jakarta, told the Australian Broadcasting Network,
If the government asks us to stay at home they have to give us a financial subsidy but in reality, it's just empty promises. Until now I've never received a thing.
Indonesia’s social aid program has been marred with scandal in recent months as then-social affairs minister and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) official Juliari Batubara, was accused of embezzling 2.7 trillion IDR (186,300 US dollars) from the social aid program and arrested in June. Batubara has since been sentenced to 11 years in prison.
But even before the scandal, many citizens took issue with the state aid programs and reported widespread corruption. In an interview with the Guardian, Eni Rochayati, coordinator of the Jakarta Urban Poor Network said:
[The] government said we would get Rp 300,000 [20 US dollars], but last year we received only around Rp 120,000 [8.3 US dollars],” said Eni. “When we received it we still have to share it with other neighbors who don’t get them.
Some cities are reporting food insecurity and major price spikes as a result of the lockdowns and interrupted supply lines.
Food prices are going up in Jogja, speaking to my local juice seller she shared that fruit is now 4x what is was pre-PPKM pic.twitter.com/UanKhDyFtF
— Harri Crisp (@Haarriet) July 16, 2021
Eni discussed the hardships of the lockdown on Indonesia’s poorest communities.
Rich people can stay at their houses relying on their monthly income. But we have to go out there to earn money every day. If we don’t do that, then our family members who are still healthy will get sick from starving. … Stay at home, using masks, social distancing, all of these would not be working if we are starving. We don’t live alone. We have families, children to feed.
Many volunteers and community organizations have taken matters into their own hands amid the government’s absence. Netizens have flocked to Twitter under the banner #wargabantuwarga (citizens helping citizens) and #Salingjaga (take care of each other) offering aid such as free care packages and transportation, money, and rice donations.
As the pandemic in Indonesia nears its peak, this type of community care might become the norm, as the country’s financial safety net is pressured and more businesses are forced to shutter amid the restrictions.