Jakarta eases curbs to avoid mass layoffs despite record Covid deaths

JAKARTA: Small shops, streetside restaurants and some shopping malls reopened in coronavirus-battered Indonesia yesterday after the government loosened a shutdown despite warnings it could unleash another Covid-19 wave.

President Joko Widodo said on Sunday that a partial lockdown imposed in early July would continue until Aug 2 even as the highly infectious Delta variant tears across the vast archipelago nation, which has overtaken India and Brazil to become the global pandemic epicentre.

The decision to relax curbs, despite record-high deaths in recent days, is being driven by social and economic concerns rather than epidemiological advice, public health experts said yesterday.

"The decision doesn't seem to be related to the pandemic but to economics," said epidemiologist Pandu Riono at the University of Indonesia.

The move comes as the government faces pressure from business groups to act to avoid mass layoffs.

"The problem is that compared with last year, the impact of the pandemic, not just on the health sector, but on socio-economic and political aspects is getting bigger by the day because of the Delta variant," said epidemiologist Dicky Budiman at Queensland's Griffith University.

The easing of the curbs came just days after Indonesia saw its 24-hour death toll hit a record 1,566, and as the World Health Organisation called on the country to impose tighter curbs.

The country has reported more than 3.1 million cases and 83,000 deaths. - AFP, REUTERS