Ardila Syakriah, Jakarta – Jakarta is home to some 10 million people, many of whom live in cramped, adjoined houses or in informal settlements with shared toilets. These densely populated areas of the city are known as kampungs.
As residents of these neighborhoods have almost no private space, they have a high risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, which has infected 5,195 and killed 453 in the city so far.
At least 445 of the 2,735 community units (RWs) in the city were categorized as slums by Statistics Indonesia's (BPS) Jakarta office in 2017. The Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry said in 2019 that at least 118 of the 267 subdistricts in the city had slums.
Jakarta health agency officials are aware that the virus has begun to infect residents of the city's sprawling kampungs. Municipal authorities, under the instruction of the provincial administration, have conducted rapid antibody tests in several kampungs over the past few weeks to intercept new clusters of infections.
"Central Jakarta has many densely populated areas: Kebon Kacang, Johar Baru, Kemayoran. It's a given that they have contributions [to the city's confirmed cases tally]," Central Jakarta health agency head Erizon Safari told The Jakarta Post recently.
Last week in Kebon Kacang subdistrict, 24 people tested positive for COVID-19 after health authorities tested 170 residents.
However, antibody tests are known to be inaccurate. The government has decided not to include such tests results in the official COVID-19 tally until they are confirmed with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
Erizon said his office had collected swabs from the 24 people who provisionally tested positive for the virus to conduct PCR tests.
While waiting for the results, 21 of them were isolated at hospitals and the remaining three at home.
The results, which came back more than three days later, showed that 17 of them had tested positive for the virus.
Erizon said medical officers had not been able to conclude where the 17 people had contracted the virus because, having shown no symptoms, they had been living and working as normal.
Large scale social restrictions (PSBB) are in place in Jakarta to contain the transmission of the virus, but many blue-collar workers cannot work from home – nor can they afford to take time off. Budget and data problems have hampered social aid distribution to the city's vulnerable populations.
"This is indeed one of the problems Jakarta's informal workers are facing [...] During PSBB, they will have to work extra hard to maintain their incomes," Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) executive director Eko Listiyanto said.
Of Jakarta's workers, 31.55 percent – some 1.5 million – are in the informal sector, earning an average of Rp 2.5 million (US$167.5) per month according to BPS. However, both formal and informal workers in the city are expected to suffer as a result of the outbreak. The Manpower Ministry said that, as of April 20, at least 449,000 people in the city had either lost their jobs or had been furloughed, kompas.com reported.
Thousands of workers in Jakarta are not only at risk of losing their incomes but also their homes, with about 27 percent of Jakartans struggling to pay rent, NGOs have found.
Amid the city's surging housing prices, 35 percent of households live in rented homes, BPS data shows.
Jakarta has a house price-to-income ratio higher than Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and New York City, according to a 2019 World Bank report.
The report said paying more was not necessarily associated with more living space. In fact, overcrowding – defined as less than 8 square meters of floor area per person – was especially severe in Jakarta's core, where the share of overcrowded households increased from 28 percent in 2002 to 35 percent in 2016, the report said.
This is one of the reasons why kampung residents are prone to infection, said North Jakarta's health agency head Yudi Dimyati.
"Restricting mobility becomes harder in such a social setting. Human-to-human transmission potentially gets faster," he said. "The conditions inside a cramped house make it more comfortable for people to be outside of the house, even if it is only to hang out."
Yudi said there were 18 kampungs prioritized for rapid testing in North Jakarta but that health authorities would focus first on neighborhoods where confirmed cases had been recorded.
Late last month, North Jakarta performed rapid tests on 299 people in Kampung Akuarium in Penjaringan subdistrict after a resident's COVID-19 test came back positive seven days after his death.
"At that time we had no other option but to interview his family [to trace their contacts]. The person reportedly had been going to work before falling sick," Yudi said.
No additional cases were found through the 299 rapid tests.
But experts have cautioned that the accuracy of rapid antibody tests is suspect, and they have stressed the need for a second round of tests within 10 days because of the potential for false negatives.
Yudi said the agency was waiting for test kits from the Jakarta administration to continue rapid testing.
West Jakarta conducted rapid tests on 186 people in Kampung Rawa Barat in Kebon Jeruk subdistrict. Three tested positive. They have been isolated until their PCR test results are returned.
South Jakarta has tested some 150 people in kampungs in Pondok Pinang subdistrict. One person has tested positive.
Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, called on the Jakarta administration to begin mass testing in densely populated neighborhoods.
"The discovery of new cases is defined by our testing services. We have to start [testing] in areas that could possibly form new clusters," he said. "Jakarta should ensure that no transmission occurs in its densely populated residential areas."