Coronavirus pandemic
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
An Indonesian commuter, wearing a protective mask, gloves and face shield, is pictured in Jakarta before returning to work. The country is easing its partial lockdown and reopening the economy, but coronavirus cases are still on the rise. Photo: Bloomberg

ExplainerIndonesia to reopen economy as coronavirus cases surge. Is it ready?

  • Indonesia is shifting to the ‘new normal’ as malls reopen, people return to work, and it looks to reopen its borders to certain countries
  • But the country now has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia, with a researcher saying it has not reached the peak of infections yet
Last week, the Indonesian government said it was looking to reopen its borders to travellers from China, South Korea, Japan, and Australia, leaving many online commentators in disbelief as coronavirus cases in the country of 270 million have shown no signs of slowing down.

On Wednesday, Indonesia reported 1,031 new coronavirus infections, taking its total number to 41,431. And it reported 45 more deaths, with a total of 2,276 fatalities.

Indonesia now has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia, and the highest coronavirus death toll in East Asia outside China.

The country closed its borders to international visitors from April 2 and some provincial governments have implemented large-scale social distancing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus in their provinces. Domestic flights resumed last month.


Dicky Budiman, a researcher pursuing his PhD in global health security and pandemics at Australia’s Griffith University, said Indonesia had not yet reached the peak of infections as cases were still rising.

“We are still in the first wave,” he said, adding that only countries starting to see a decline in positive cases while conducting mass testing should lift social distancing restrictions.

Commuters travel on main roads during afternoon rush hour in Jakarta, as people return to work. Photo: AFP
All of Indonesia’s 34 provinces have reported Covid-19 cases, but the capital Jakarta represents around 22.5 per cent of nationwide infections.

As cases continue to rise in East Java, there are concerns that the country’s second-largest city Surabaya could become the “Wuhan of Indonesia”, in reference to the Chinese city where the virus outbreak was first discovered last December. The province now has 8,533 cases.

There are also fears over a second wave of infections in West Java, the country’s most populous province with 49.9 million people, according to Statistics Indonesia.

Wet markets in Indonesia have also come under scrutiny, as China’s capital Beijing battles a fresh outbreak with cases linked to the Xinfadi wholesale market in its Fengtai district. The Indonesian Traditional Market Traders Association said 535 vendors at wet markets in 20 provinces had been infected and 29 of them had died as of last Friday, The Jakarta Post reported.


Indonesia’s economy has been battered by the movement restrictions, with Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati on Tuesday saying she expected second-quarter GDP growth to be -3.1 per cent, the first time in more than two decades since the 1998 financial crisis that Indonesia has experienced negative quarterly growth.

Both imports and exports have fallen on the back of slowing consumer demand and supply chain disruptions to the global economy. Earlier this year, Bank Indonesia estimated that 125 trillion rupiah (US$8.8 billion) of foreign capital had left the country as investors panicked, with the government reacting by buying government bonds and providing relief to businesses and households to shore up the economy. About 677.2 trillion rupiah (US$47.8 billion) has been allocated to pandemic management and boosting economic recovery, President Joko Widodo said on Monday. Household spending and foreign investment account for more than 70 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Indonesia’s Bali becomes hideout for foreigners amid pandemic

Last week, Widodo said economic sectors which have seen few infections among workers but contribute significantly to GDP – such as agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, construction, logistics, mining, and oil and gas – would be prioritised and opened in various stages.

On Monday, about 80 malls in Jakarta reopened with health protocols in place. Working hours for government employees have been staggered to prevent overcrowding on public transport. On domestic flights, airlines can only fill 70 per cent of the cabin at most.

This month, the government’s Covid-19 task force denied it was trying to reach herd immunity to resolve the pandemic.

An Indonesian couple wearing face masks walk through a mall as shopping centres reopen in Jakarta. Photo: AFP


Iwan Ariawan, lecturer at the University of Indonesia’s public health faculty, recommended that at least 65 to 70 per cent of Jakarta’s population, and a minimum of 49 to 50 per cent of citizens nationwide, remain at home for the time being.

“The more people stay home, we see, the speed of transmission of this disease is getting slower,” he said. “Later from there, we can ease these social restrictions.”

Three requirements would have to be fulfilled before this can happen, he added. From an epidemiological perspective, the virus needs to be controlled first. From the public health aspect, disease surveillance has to be able to identify most of the coronavirus cases and their contacts, while citizens have to take preventive measures. And the health system needs to be able to handle an increase in Covid-19 cases.

In Indonesia, gravediggers’ heavy workload points to higher death toll

According to Statistics Indonesia, there were 129,366,192 working citizens above the age of 15 as of February 2019. Of these, 38.1 million worked in agriculture, forestry and fisheries; 24.4 million in wholesale and retail trade as well as the car and motorcycle repair and maintenance industries; 18.2 million in processing industries; 7.6 million in the construction sector; and 5.2 million people worked in the transport and warehousing industries.

With the country’s large informal sector requiring people to work outside, it would be harder for Indonesians to stay home.

People observe social distancing regulations on a train in Medan, North Sumatra. Photo: EPA-EFE


The Indonesian Trade Union Confederation said the threat of hundreds of thousands of workers in Indonesia’s manufacturing sector losing their jobs “is in sight” because of Covid-19.

“The government should maximise the provision of direct cash assistance and provide wage subsidies,” the confederation’s president Said Iqbal said in a May 28 statement.

Children in the country are also vulnerable to the pandemic.

A total of 715 people under the age of 18 had contracted the coronavirus, while 28 had died, according to a health ministry document dated May 22. This figure would give Indonesia a child death rate of 2.1 per cent of its total.

Indonesian children caught in ‘devil’s circle’ of coronavirus and malnutrition

Paediatricians and health officials in the world’s fourth most populous country said the high number of child deaths from a disease that mostly kills the elderly was due to underlying factors, in particular malnutrition, anaemia and inadequate child health facilities.

Long stigmatised and marginalised, Indonesia’s transgender community has been impacted by the coronavirus as well. Many do not receive social assistance from the government as they do not have identification cards and their names are not listed as aid recipients. Many also work as buskers and sex workers, with their irregular income making it more difficult for them to buy food.

Health workers take a nasal swab sample from a girl during public testing for Covid-19 in Jakarta. Photo: AP


The government said it has carried out 559,872 tests or about 2,048 per a million people as of Wednesday, making it one of the lowest coronavirus testing rates in the world. Other countries like India and the Philippines have done around 4,411 and 4,902 tests per 1 million citizens respectively. The government is aiming to conduct 20,000 tests every day.

The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesia has reported three daily records in new cases in June alone, but government spokesman for Covid-19 affairs Achmad Yurianto had attributed this to “aggressive contact tracing”.

The government’s Covid-19 task force said the spike in cases should not be seen negatively as it was due to more testing, contact tracing, and an accumulation of previously unreported cases. The increase in travel at the end of Ramadan could also be a factor.

The newspaper also reported this month that Indonesia’s state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma expects to start a preclinical vaccine trial next year.

Is Covid-19 making Indonesians disillusioned with democracy?


Ismail Fahmi, founder of Drone Emprit, which analyses social media in Indonesia using artificial intelligence and natural language processing technologies, said public sentiment included “distrust” over the government’s readiness to combat the pandemic because the “number of tests is still low”; the fact that the number of “coronavirus cases is still high”; and an “undisciplined society”.

“I think the distrust will still continue,” Fahmi said.

“On the other hand, the ‘new normal’ campaign continues, while the enforcement of protocols in the field is also not strict.”

Additional reporting by Reuters