The delta variant of Covid-19 has wreaked havoc as it made its way across Indonesia. Scenes of the sick lying outside overcrowded hospitals and scrambles for oxygen tanks were reminiscent of the images the world had seen coming out of India three months earlier. It is a sombre time. Messages of condolences have become a regular occurrence.
On the country’s most populated islands of Java and Bali, the government imposed another round of tight lockdown. “Non-essential” shops can no longer open, employees must work remotely, restaurants and food stalls can only offer takeaways and the new school year sees students back in online classes.
After 18 months of pandemic, people’s sources of income have drastically depleted if not lost altogether. The new lockdown restrictions have made it even harder for those who had managed to keep jobs. Even workers operating in “essential” sectors now need special permits to enter Indonesia’s capital city. More red tape on top of already dire circumstances. And in the midst of all this, Indonesia lost its upper-middle income status.
Tomorrow will be Eid al-Adha, the second largest Muslim holiday when livestock are sacrificed and the meat distributed amongst the poor. Those who have been made poorer by the pandemic may hope to be able to supplement their diet with meat from these sacrifices. But as wallets are tightening, with even the affluent reconsidering how much they’re able to give, this temporary respite the poor were hoping for may sadly not materialize.
What is the way out of these dire times?
Firstly, vaccines are key to reducing severe symptoms and deaths. A key strategy would be to find ways to diversify vaccine supplies and their administration, including by involving the private sector in the effort. They need to be allowed to source vaccines and establish administration centres in areas where government reach is limited. We are doing a study on this and hope to share it soon!
Secondly, ensuring the open flow and trade of essential goods and food items would bring better food security for the poor. Finding ways to drive down costs will relieve the pressure on already constrained wallets. As one of the solutions, we propose that Indonesia adopts an Automated Import Licensing System. Food trade policy analysis in our Covid-response policy brief and an article published by ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute also remain highly relevant here.
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Center for Indonesian Policy Studies
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