As Indonesia mulls easing lockdown, WHO urges tougher restrictions


Health workers from the military wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) spray disinfectant on their bags amid a surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Surabaya, East Java Province, Indonesia July 19, 2021, in this photo taken by Antara Foto/Muhammad Adimaja via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT.

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged Indonesia to implement a stricter and wider lockdown to combat surging COVID-19 infections and deaths, just days after the country's president flagged the easing of restrictions.

Indonesia has become one of the epicentres of the global pandemic in recent weeks, with positive COVID-19 cases leaping fivefold in the past five weeks. This week, daily deaths hit record highs over 1,400, among the highest tolls in the world.

In its latest situation report, the WHO said strict implementation of public health and social restrictions were crucial and called for additional "urgent action" to address sharp rises in infections in 13 of Indonesia's 34 provinces.

"Indonesia is currently facing a very high transmission level, and it is indicative of the utmost importance of implementing stringent public health and social measures, especially movement restrictions, throughout the country," it said.

Under Indonesia's partial lockdown, social restrictions such as work-from-home and closed malls are limited to the islands of Java and Bali and small pockets in other parts of the country. Large sectors of the economy deemed critical or essential are exempt from most, or some, of the lockdown measures.

On Tuesday, President Joko Widodo flagged an easing of restrictions from next week, citing official data showing a fall in infections in recent days, which epidemiologists say has been driven by a drop in testing from already low levels.

"If the trend of cases continues to decline, then on July 26, 2021, the government will gradually lift restrictions," Jokowi, as the president is known, said.

Indonesia's daily positivity rate, the proportion of people tested who are infected, has averaged 30% over the past week even as cases numbers have fallen. A level above 20% meant "very high" transmissibility, the WHO said.

All but one of Indonesia's provinces have a positivity rate above 20%, with the outlier, Aceh, at 19%, the WHO said.

The senior minister in charge of the partial lockdown, Luhut Pandjaitan, said easing of restrictions could occur in areas where transmission rates fell, hospital capacity increased and the "sociological condition" of residents demanded it.

Employer groups have warned of mass layoffs unless restrictions are relaxed next week. Among other measures, they want all operational staff to be allowed to work at offices and factories in critical and essential industries - which include all export-orientated businesses, hotels and IT firms.

(Reporting by Tom Allard; Editing by Ed Davies)

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