JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – There was a semblance of normality when passengers thronged to train stations in Bogor and Bekasi in West Java on Monday (June 8) morning to commute to their workplaces in Jakarta after having not done so for two months during the implementation of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in the capital.
What made the sight different from a couple of months ago was the fact the commuters were wearing face masks and maintaining a safe distance one from another.
The Jakarta administration, as well as some other regional governments, have resumed a work-from-office arrangement to replace the work-from-home policy, as it implements a “transitional PSBB” period.
The arrangement involves putting into practice the “new normal” measures the central government has promoted as it seeks to restore economic and social activities amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
As of Monday (June 8), Indonesia had recorded 32,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,880 fatalities.
During the transitional period, public transportation operators are required to limit passenger numbers to 50 percent capacity. The same policy also applies to office buildings, to ensure physical distancing measures can be implemented.
With this “new normal” protocol in place, it is no surprise that the queues of commuters at train stations in Bogor reached the front gates.
At Bekasi station, officials only allowed passengers aged above 60 years to take trains after 10 am, when traffic was lighter.
Indeed, health protocols in this transitional period must be rigid and strictly enforced. It is necessary that there are people responsible for seeing that these protocols are followed, which is why the government plans to deploy military personnel, in addition to police and public order officers.
The involvement of the military is controversial, but also reflects the risk the government is taking by relaxing the restrictions.
Nobody would expect the government to take a gamble in its decision to begin the new normal era, despite some requirements not having been met.
The daily numbers of new confirmed cases continue to fluctuate, instead of showing a consistent decline. On June 6, a new record high of 993 was set, with the government saying it was the result of increased testing.
The experience of other countries should teach Indonesia that preparations matter. Singapore and South Korea, for example, revived restrictions after cases spiked just after they gave relaxation a try.
Singapore and South Korea are known for their self-discipline and well-equipped health facilities, but enforcing stringent health protocols to offset the relaxation of restrictions is easier said than done.
Indonesia, where many still ignore, if not deny, the spread of the deadly virus, will definitely face more challenges in adapting to the new normal.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo sent a message about the government’s readiness to embrace the new normal when he attended Friday prayers at Baiturrahim Mosque inside the Presidential Palace premises last week.
Only 150 people were allowed to attend the prayer, in a mosque that can accommodate 750 people. Hand-washing was mandatory for those entering the mosque.
After one day, it is too early to predict whether the new policy will succeed or fail. Nevertheless, the coming few weeks will prove whether this high-risk decision will earn Indonesia high gains.
The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.