Nina A. Loasana, Jakarta – The government has decided to ban crowd-pulling events and New Year's Eve celebrations from Dec. 18 to Jan. 8 in a bid to prevent a spike in COVID-19 transmissions during the Christmas and New Year's holiday season.
Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investments Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said the decision was based on the continued and significant rise in new COVID-19 cases, particularly following a five-day weekend at the end of October.
"The number of daily new cases and the death toll have continued to increase since the late October [extended break]. Prior to this, we had seen a relatively downward trend," Luhut said on Monday in a meeting with the governors of Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, East Java and Bali.
The senior minister highlighted the fact that the spike in cases was mainly occurring in eight provinces: Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, East Java, South Sulawesi, North Sumatra, Bali and East Kalimantan.
Luhut specifically asked Jakarta, the administrative region hardest-hit by the pandemic, to implement an even stricter work-from-home policy that requires 75 percent of workers in the capital to work remotely.
He has also asked Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan to continue limiting the operational hours of shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment venues to only 7 p.m.
"Mall owners should provide rent relief to vendors, such as implementing a pro-rate system or a profit-sharing scheme so that the [stricter] policy won't put an additional economic burden on tenants," the minister said.
Wedding receptions and other crowd-pulling religious events were also asked to be banned and moved online.
Authorities have their work cut out for them following a continued surge in coronavirus transmission since the long weekend in late October, with hundreds of new family clusters emerging in Jakarta alone.
The 2020 regional elections are also feared to result in a spike in cases, although officials have played this down.
As of Monday, the nationwide tally of infections has reached 623,309 cases and 18,956 deaths.
Critics believe the true scale of the health crisis to be much bigger, with nationwide testing only covering some 4.3 million people.
Meanwhile, directives for the nation's rural areas were also raised during Monday's meeting.
"In rural areas, local governments have to strengthen the implementation of social restrictions on a micro- and community-level scale," Luhut said.
Especially for Bali, he called for the stricter implementation of health protocols at rest areas, hotels and tourist attractions.
"Tourists traveling to Bali by air are required to present negative PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test results, while those traveling by land have to bring negative antigen rapid test results," he said.
Previously, Anies and West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil announced that both their provinces would ban large New Year's Eve celebration gatherings in public spaces indoors and outdoors.
Meanwhile, Bali Tourism Agency head Putu Astawa said the provincial administration would allow hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations to host New Year's Eve celebrations in a bid to revive the island's tourism. Celebrations must still observe strict COVID-19 health protocols.
To discourage the public from traveling, the government recently decided to reduce the number of collective leave days for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, including a substitute leave day to make up for the shortened Idul Fitri holiday.
Under the new arrangement, the country will enjoy a total of eight days off instead of eleven, namely from Dec. 24 to 27 for Christmas, Dec. 31 to substitute for the canceled Idul Fitri leave day, then from Jan. 1 to 3, 2021, for New Year.