Almost 700,000 workers lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said Thursday, as health authorities reported that the country’s COVID-19 infections surpassed 10,000.
Jokowi said 8.4 million people had signed up for the so-called Pre-Employment Card program that allows job seekers to join online courses, free of charge, and get a monthly stipend of 600,000 rupiah ($40) for four months.
“About 375,000 formal workers and 315,000 informal workers had been laid off because of the pandemic,” Jokowi said, adding that about a million people so far had been furloughed, referring to employees who had not lost their jobs but had been placed on paid or unpaid leave.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told reporters on April 14 that about 2.9 million to 5.2 million jobs out of the nation’s 134 million workforce may be lost this year as a result of the pandemic.
“Please make sure the economic stimulus programs that we have drawn up are implemented immediately,” Jokowi told a cabinet meeting on Thursday. “Laid-off workers should be prioritized.”
Achmad Yurianto, spokesman for the country’s COVID-19 task force, said diagnosed infections rose to 10,118 after 347 cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.
Eight new deaths brought the death toll to 792, he said.
Meanwhile, about 500 Chinese workers who were scheduled to arrive in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi province in early May were barred from entering the country, following opposition from locals that the foreigners could spread COVID-19, a Manpower Ministry official said. China is where the highly contagious coronavirus was first detected in December last year.
The workers had been granted permits to work at PT Virtue Dragon Nickel Industry and PT Obsidian Stainless Steel to replace staff whose contracts had expired, said Aris Wahyudi, a director at the ministry.
“The companies decided to postpone the plan to bring in 500 foreign workers from China because of the rejection here. They understood the opposition,” Aris told BenarNews.
“The companies have stopped operations for quite some time since the onset of the pandemic. This has adversely affected local workers too,” he said.
Indonesia has barred the entry of foreigners as part of measures to curb the coronavirus, but diplomats and those with work permits are exempted.
Southeast Sulawesi Gov. Ali Mazi said locals were opposed to the workers’ arrival not because they were anti-Chinese, but they were concerned about the spread of COVID-19.
He said a similar controversy had erupted over the arrival of 49 Chinese workers in mid-March.
“When the COVID-19 outbreak is over, we can talk about it again,” he told Metro TV late Thursday.
Opposition to the entry of Chinese workers during the pandemic has also been voiced by many Indonesians on social media.
Globally, almost 3.2 million have been infected by COVID-19 and around 232,000 have died, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
In another development, cigarette maker H.M. Sampoerna, a unit of Philip Morris International, said it had temporarily closed its factory in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, after two of its employees died of COVID-19.
“Our priority is the safety of our employees by implementing health protocols prescribed by the government,” a director at the company, Elvira Lianita, said in a statement.
About 100 of 370 workers at the factory had been confirmed positive after rapid tests, East Java COVID-19 task force official Joni Wahyudi told CNN Indonesia.
The results have to be confirmed by swab tests, he said.
Migrant workers returning home
The government will tighten monitoring and health checks at entry points as about 37,000 migrant workers are expected to return home within the next three months, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a teleconference with cabinet members on Thursday.
Authorities have prepared quarantine facilities for migrant workers who show COVID-19 symptoms, she said. Marsudi did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged authorities to stop prosecuting and harassing those who provide food assistance during the pandemic.
“It’s nothing short of outrageous that the authorities are going after people for helping out during this health crisis,” said Eva Sundari, an Indonesian politician and a board member the APHR, in a statement.
“What the authorities are doing is criminalizing solidarity at a time when it is the most needed,” she said.
On Tuesday, Malaysian lawmaker and APHR chairman Charles Santiago and his staff were questioned by the police for allegedly breaching Malaysia’s lockdown while distributing aid to his constituents.
They could face charges of spreading a “disease dangerous to life” under Malaysia’s penal code and disobeying orders under an infectious diseases act, the APHR said. On Thursday, Malaysian health authorities recorded 57 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths from the disease, taking the national total to 6,002 cases and 102 deaths.
In the Philippines, former congressman Ariel Casilao has been charged with non-cooperation and “usurpation of authority” after delivering food assistance to residents earlier this month, APHR said.
Manila’s health authorities reported 276 new coronavirus infections and 10 more deaths on Thursday, taking the nation’s cumulative cases to 8,488 and fatalities to 568.
Last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extended until May 15 the lockdown in the capital, Manila, a city of at least 13 million people. The government imposed curbs on immigration and gatherings on March 12, five days after the first case of domestic transmission.
Thailand to reopen outdoor markets, barber shops
Unlike the Philippines, neighboring Thailand will loosen movement restrictions starting Sunday, allowing the reopening of outdoor markets, barber shops and pet groomers as the number of new cases of infections remained low, health officials said Thursday.
Thailand confirmed seven new coronavirus infections but no new deaths, taking its tally to 2,954 cases while fatalities remained at 54.
Categories of activities and businesses that would be allowed to reopen this weekend would include street food stalls, small retailers and restaurants outside shopping malls, parks and outdoor sports facilities for regular exercises.
“Also barber shops and beauty salon can be opened only for hair cutting, washing and blow-drying, on call for reservation and no waiting in shops,” Dr. Taweesilp Wissanuyothin, the spokesman for the government’s COVID-19 center, told reporters.
However, an emergency decree that imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. and a ban on incoming and outgoing international passenger flights would still continue until the end of May, he said.
“We can’t trust that life would be normal, until we have vaccines [against COVID-19],” he said. “We have to continue to watch out for the next 14 days.”
Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.