After almost 18 months, children in Jakarta will begin to re-enter classrooms on Monday, as Indonesia, which faces on of the worst Covid outbreaks globally, eases restrictions in some areas.
Indonesia began gradually loosening its lockdown measures last week, allowing restaurants and places of worship to open their doorsat 25% capacity, and malls to operate at 50% capacity. The relaxed rules were introduced across several regions in Java and Bali , including greater Jakarta, greater Bandung and greater Surabaya.
In Jakarta, schools are also beginning to reopen their doors. From Monday, 610 schools will be ready to start face-to-face schooling, with classes held at 50% of the usual size, according to the Jakarta Education Agency. The schools will open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the remaining days will be used to spray classrooms with disinfectant.
“The teachers, students and parents are excited with this new policy because we haven’t studied in class for a very long time,” said Nidia Khaofiya, 27, a teacher at an elementary school in East Jakarta. Schools in Jakarta have been shut since 16 March 2020.
In the run up to the reopening, teachers have held online meetings with parents to make sure the correct safety measures are followed. Washbasins have been installed in front of every class and hand sanitisers prepared.
“I think our work will be broader as we have to make sure that students will always wear masks and that they practise social distance at school,” said Nidia, who is teaching 10 and 11-year-olds in a fourth grade class. Children will take it in turns to attend school, so that class sizes are kept at 50%. This means more work for teachers, who will need to juggle both teaching online and offline.
Just months ago, Jakarta was one of the worst hit provinces in Indonesia, consistently recording the highest number of Covid-19 cases. But the capital has slowly seen a fall in infections. As of Sunday, Jakarta recorded 474 daily new cases, a major drop compared to months ago. By contrast, on 12 July it recorded one of its highest number of Covid cases with more than 14,600 new infections in a day.
“Everything is going very well in Jakarta; the active cases, the bed occupancy rates at hospitals, the Covid deaths, everything is consistently decreasing. [That happened because] the restriction has been implemented well and the vaccination coverage has been boosted up,” said Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from University of Indonesia.
Across Jakarta, which has the highest vaccine coverage in the nation, 9.8 million people have received their first dose, while 5.6 million people have had two doses. Nidia said all of their students and almost all teachers have been vaccinated. In other provinces, however, where access to vaccines has been more limited, there are concerns about school reopenings leading to a rise in infections among children.
Indonesia has seen one of the highest number of fatalities among children who have caught Covid.
Data from Save the Children showed that until July, 351,336 children aged under 18 had been infected by Covid and 777 of them had died because of the virus.
According to the Health Ministry, the percentage of overall Covid cases among children that were under 18 years of age has risen to 12.9%, compared to 5% in July last year. The ministry also recorded a case fatality rate children under 18 years old was at 1%.
While daily infections in Jakarta have fallen, elsewhere it’s a different story. Cases have risen in several areas such as Aceh, Lampung, Riau and North Sumatera. These areas are among the provinces that will remain under the strictest restrictions, known as level four, until 6 September.
Indonesia still has the highest daily death toll globally, according to Our World in Data. Over the past week, an average of 861 fatalities were reported each day, more than in any other country.
Officials have advised Jakartans to continue acting cautiously. “Even though the PPKM level has been downgraded, [you] are advised to remain disciplined in following the health protocols, so that conditions in Jakarta could continue to improve and will not return to the emergency period like before,” Jakarta governor, Anies Baswedan, told public on his official Instagram account last week.
Pandu said that the new rules must be properly enforced, and supported by increased testing and tracking to prevent new cases spiking.
“Activity has started to open at 50% (capacity). That’s quite big. And that’s difficult to control. So, we must be doubly vigilant,” Pandu said.
Supriono, a taxi driver in Jakarta, said his child’s school is not among those re-opening this week, but he hopes it will soon. “My first child is seven years old. I can’t imagine what will happen to our children if they keep staying at home and learning only from their smartphones,” he said.
He is pleased that restrictions are being eased – and that the authorities have removed roadblocks that forced him to take long routes across the city when ferrying passengers. He is yet to see the impact of the new rules on his business.
“It’s still difficult for me to pick up passengers and earn money as many people in Jakarta are still working from home,” said Supriono, 40, who has worked as a taxi driver for eight years.
That day, he had worked from 4am to 11am, but not picked up a single passenger. Before the pandemic, on good days, he could bring home around IDR 250,000 (USD 17.34) a day. After Covid arrived, and especially since the restrictions were introduced, some days he goes home empty handed.
“I never did this before the pandemic but now I really hope that the passengers could give me some tips because that additional tip could really help me a lot,” Supriono said. His wife, who used to take care of their two children, now works at the nearby laundry to help the family’s finances.
Others say business is starting to improve. Sutji Rahmatia, 36, a director of a kebab meat producer that supplies street vendors and restaurants in Jakarta said there are signs of increased demand.
“Customers at the restaurants and vendors who sell kebabs at malls say they have seen an increased number of kebabs being sold these past few days, so it’s good news for all of us,” she said.
The restrictions hit kebab street vendors badly, as there were fewer customers outside.
“I know this one seller who owns 14 kebab food carts, but now there is only one cart left behind,” she said, “I really hope they can get back to their feet soon, gradually adapt with this new condition.”
The new, lighter restrictions were introduced last Tuesday for just one week, on a pilot basis. It’s expected that the authorities will decide whether to extend the measures on Monday.