09/14/2020, 14.29
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A semi-lockdown would have serious economic consequences

by Mathias Hariyadi

Some leading figures criticise Greater Jakarta’s new social distancing plan. According to Budi Hartono, owner of PT Djarum, the leading Indonesian cigarette manufacturer, most people are more worried about losing their jobs than about the pandemic.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Harsh criticism and strong protests from civil society groups have led the Greater Jakarta (DKI Jakarta) Authority to impose, yesterday, new strict large-scale social distancing (PSBB), but with many adjustments, after many key business leaders accused the new social restraint plan (PSBB) of seriously affecting Indonesia's economy.

According to Bhima Yudhistira, an economist at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF), the economic recovery has not been doing very well. Last Friday, the stock market plunged sharply. The Indonesian rupiah also lost against the dollar.

"If the PSBB is strictly enforced, there will inevitably be a large number of layoffs," he said, noting three waves of layoffs: The first wave came in March, when COVID-19 was first broke out; the second came when the PSBB was eased; and the third wave will occur when the semi-lockdown is imposed by the DKI.

PT Djarum's concern

Robert Budi Hartono (pictured), owner of PT Djarum, the leading Indonesian cigarette manufacturer, is one of Indonesia’s wealthiest people. He openly and harshly criticised the DKI’s semi-lockdown.

On Saturday he made public his advice and solution to President Joko Widodo, urging him to avoid the semi-lockdown proposed by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. Otherwise, he wrote, Indonesia will once again suffer economic damage.

However, Hartono, who lost more than US$ 4.7 billion on 17 March 2020, gave his view on the root cause of the massive spread of COVID-19 in Greater Jakarta, and offered the authorities some proposals.

His younger brother Michael Hartono, also involved with the PT Djarum cigarette group, lost at least US$ 3.26 billion.

Low discipline is all that matters

Many Indonesians have pointed the finger at low self-control, including by Djarum's owner, Budi Hartono, as the root cause of the massive uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in Jakarta.

For Hartono, "It is up to Jakarta authorities to crack down or take into account the lack of discipline. Please do not take a political shortcut (by imposing the new social restraint plan) which will never properly address the real problem”.

In his view, the central government and the Jakarta authorities should quickly set up a special area for ​​total isolation, until the maximum capacity of the Jakarta hospitals is reached. “Testing, isolation, tracing and treatment should be done on a massive scale," Hartono said.

Economic activities should be maintained as most people are more worried about losing their jobs than about the pandemic. This is why a strict health protocol should be seriously enforced.

Nothing serious will happen

It is very clear that such a protocol has never been seriously put into practice by both ordinary people and government officials.

Nothing serious seems to be happening daily as the deadly virus is not "tangible" despite the daily public reporting of cases and deaths.

Budi Hartono’s main argument was developed on the basis of several recent polls which state that over 80 per cent of respondents from different polls reject the semi-lockdown as Anies Baswedan noted in an impromptu statement issued last week.

For this reason, despite the confidence in launching new social restraint plan this week, the Governor of Jakarta’s new notice is nothing more than a "publicity stunt" to gain personal popularity.

Shopping malls can still open but only with a limited number of patrons. Restaurants and bars can also open, but only for takeaways.

Hotels remain open, but guests are urged to stay in their rooms. Taxis and rental cars are also available, but with more focus on customer service.

The new social restraint plan will come into effect today until 27 September. In South Tangerang, local authorities refused to follow Jakarta’s path.

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