At 9pm, the area beneath a flyover in the eastern part of Indonesia ’s capital, Jakarta, starts filling up with men and women of all ages laying out cardboard boxes as they prepare to spend the night. Just a few weeks ago, many of them had a roof over their heads. “I never thought I would end up on the streets,” said Joiyakin Purba, a karaoke lounge singer who was thrown out of his room when he lost his job and could not pay the rent. Nearby is the site where two suicide bombers from Islamic State Indonesian affiliate Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) killed three police officers in May 2017. Joiyakin was oblivious to Kampung Melayu’s recent history. “I feel safe here. There are many people and they are very friendly,” he said. Volunteer workers say homelessness is on the rise in Jakarta, and this is a sign of how Southeast Asia’s largest economy has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic . Indonesia has officially recorded 16,006 infections and 1,043 deaths but health ministry official Achmad Yurianto on Wednesday said there were more than 33,000 patients suspected to have acute respiratory illnesses for which there was no clinical explanation other than the coronavirus. Jakarta is struggling to contain the outbreak. The city lies on Indonesia’s most populous island Java, which is home to 151 million of the country’s 270 million people. But not all of Java’s six provinces have fully implemented large-scale social restrictions to limit business operations and the movement of people, and the growing signs of financial distress could force President Joko Widodo , commonly known as Jokowi, to begin easing some of these regulations next month, before the country has flattened the curve of infections. Earlier this week, government officials discussed how Indonesia could exit the partial lockdowns imposed in some cities, and completely reopen the economy by late July or early August. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the stability of the financial system amid an exodus in capital was “the main concern”. While officials maintain the economy could still grow up to 2.3 per cent this year, economists such as Wisnu Wardana at Bank Danamon warned of a contraction to 0.6 per cent. Indonesia’s first-quarter GDP was its weakest since 2001, rising 2.97 per cent year-on-year as household spending and investment growth slowed. The Manpower and Transmigration Ministry said last month that 2.8 million people had been laid off because of Covid-19, while another 70 million informal workers were at risk. Indonesia braces for Covid-19 spike as thousands of workers return home Indonesia Solidarity Party (PSI) spokesman Sigit Widodo, who has been distributing aid to the homeless at Kampung Melayu and other parts of Jakarta, estimates more than 1,000 people are sleeping rough in the city. “Even the middle-class is affected. There is a chef from Sushi Tei restaurant who lost his job and ended up sleeping here too,” said Sigit, whose party has also been paying for low-cost accommodation for some of the homeless. Most businesses in Indonesia only have enough cash to continue operating until the end of June, the influential Indonesian Employers’ Association (Apindo) said on Monday, while Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN) chairman Rosan Roeslani said many had liquidity to last as long as between July and September. The chamber also said about 6 million people have either lost their jobs or been asked to stay home, although it is unclear if those staying home are being paid. Last month, publicly listed PT Fast Food Indonesia, the operator of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) chains across the country, closed 97 of its 689 stores as several shopping malls were forced to shut, The Jakarta Post reported. For me there is no word of surrender. We have to survive. That is key. Businessman Agustus Sani Nugroho Lawyer and businessman Agustus Sani Nugroho, who has interests in the food and natural gas industries, said he is working hard to avoid having to lay off his 200-strong staff in his food factory, which is still operating as it is deemed an essential service. “Our food business has dropped by at least 60 per cent as so many restaurants are closed,” said Agustus, who supplies processed meats to Starbucks, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. “Since last month, we are already in negative cash flow.” He is negotiating with his staff to defer the annual Eid bonus payment and is restructuring his loan payments. Asked how long his company could keep going, he said: “For me there is no word of surrender. We have to survive. That is key.” Yose Rizal Damuri, head of the Department of Economics at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said it would be difficult to restart the country’s economy if restrictions are not eased by the end of June. “It takes time to jump-start the economy – from manufacturing to services sector. You cannot … expect everything to be back to normal immediately when restrictions are lifted.” They said we had plague: Indonesia’s first coronavirus patients Yose said Covid-19 and its containment process have resulted in an additional 8 million poor people. “If the containment is relaxed, the figure would be lower, but still more than before,” said Yose. Currently 25 million Indonesians fall below the poverty line. “That is why government will relax strict social restrictions, not because the pandemic is getting better, but because the economic cost is too high,” said Yose, warning that social tensions would also worsen until economic activity restarts. The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) also warned that social unrest could erupt if the economy falls further, although it believes the country is politically stable and the government is “very strong” as most of the opposition parties have joined the coalition government. “Its consequences would be very hard on Indonesia which became a democracy just 22 years ago,” said PSI spokesman Sigit, adding that anti-Jokowi forces will continue to be active for his entire term in office. We will not be able to return to life before Covid-19 and must accept that there will be a new normal. Academic Iwan Ariawan University of Indonesia biostatistician Iwan Ariawan urged the government not to lift restrictions all at once, but rather in phases. He said it was far too soon for Indonesia to say it has flattened the curve as there needs to be 14 consecutive days of a fall in new infections and deaths for that to happen. “If the government just simply lifts the strict social restrictions because of the economy, Indonesia will risk repeating the pandemic and in the long-term, this will cause greater losses to the economy.” Iwan said the government needs to map out social economic activities according to risk of infection and economic impact. “We will not be able to return to life before Covid-19 and must accept that there will be a new normal,” said Iwan. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.