Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, announced new restrictions on Thursday for parts of Java and Bali islands to contain the rapidly spreading Delta variant, including closing mosques, schools, shopping malls and sports facilities.
The measures will take effect on Saturday and last until July 20, encompassing the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, a major event in Indonesia that falls on July 19 and is usually celebrated with large gatherings and the sacrifice of goats and cows.
“As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic has been growing rapidly in the last few days because of the new variant, which is also a serious problem in many countries,” Mr. Joko said in an address to the nation. “This situation requires us to take more resolute steps so that together we can curb the spread of Covid-19.”
The number of reported cases has been rising daily, reaching a record 24,836 on Thursday, along with 504 deaths, another high. Just six weeks ago, it appeared that the vast Southeast Asian archipelago was making progress against the virus, with fewer than 2,500 daily cases reported.
The Delta variant, first detected in India, is driving a surge of the coronavirus in many parts of the world. In Indonesia, health experts say that the variant has led to the recent rise in cases, which has swamped hospitals and cemeteries, especially in the capital, Jakarta.
The Delta variant makes up 87 percent of the cases in Jakarta, the governor, Anies Baswedan, said earlier this week.
“Hospitals are overflowing, around one in five tests in Indonesia are reportedly coming back positive, and we’re experiencing more deaths now than at any point of the pandemic so far,” said Ade Soekadis, Mercy Corps’ country director for Indonesia.
The new measures stop short of the complete lockdown urged by some health experts.
All places of worship will be closed, workers in nonessential jobs must work from home, restaurants can provide only takeout food, local transit will operate with reduced capacity and public parks will be closed. Weddings with up to 30 attendees will still be allowed.
The measures will apply to nearly all of Java, which includes Jakarta and has a population of about 140 million, and to the most heavily populated parts of Bali, where tourism officials had been hoping to reopen to foreign tourists.
Most hospitals on Java are already over capacity and some are turning away patients, said Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia. According to his projections, the current surge would not peak until at least the end of July and could reach 500,000 cases and 2,000 deaths a day if tougher measures are not adopted.
“The government should do a lockdown,” he said. “Now we are facing our most serious and critical time. If we don’t respond to this situation in a serious way, then we will lose many lives.”