JAKARTA — South-east Asia’s largest city’s battle to keep business and finance ticking over is being undone by repeated coronavirus outbreaks across its high-rise towers. Jakarta reported 584 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, taking its total to 20,740. It was the biggest one-day spike in the city so far, with two main sources: housing and office blocks. By Tuesday, there were 90 office clusters with 459 cases, concentrated in high-rise towers.

Many of these involved public servants who are failing to observe the recommended health protocols, according to Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Tjahjo Kumolo. The minister told the Jakarta Post that his office had warned public servants to wear masks, maintain social distancing and practise good hygiene in a circular issued by his office in May.

“However, supervision of the implementation is still lacking so far,” he said.

Jakarta’s high-rise office blocks have become high peril (Photo: via Bloomberg)

The number of positive cases across Jakarta has increased tenfold since April, when restrictions that kept many workplaces and all schools closed were lifted, and offices, shopping malls and restaurants were opened. In response to rising numbers, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan was expected to extend the lighter restrictions now in place. He has hinted a reversion to closures is possible.

Unlike most of its south-east Asian neighbours, the Indonesian authorities continue to rely on citizens to observe precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing, rather than imposing lockdowns that would force people to stay at home. The number of positive cases reported across the archipelago nation has climbed steadily. By Wednesday, it had reached 104,432.

Public health experts have repeatedly urged the government to increase its communication and awareness campaigns, with surveys showing many believed the crisis had passed. Just over three quarters, or 77 per cent, of the 154,471 people surveyed in Jakarta by the Lapor COVID-19 community movement, in conjunction with the Nanyang Technological University, thought they were “unlikely” to get infected.

Last week, President Joko Widodo, alarmed by the worsening prognosis, established an economic recovery taskforce to help drive activity. It is led by Budi Gunadi Sadikin, State-Owned Enterprises Deputy Minister, who told media it was essential that people find new ways to do business.

“If we can build confidence, we can influence how everyone uses technology,” he said.

A sharp contrast to Jakarta’s approach to pandemic management was provided this week by Vietnam, which moved swiftly into emergency mode after a positive test in the central city of Da Nang revealed the first case of community transmission in 99 days.

At district level, those living in affected areas have been advised to stay home for two weeks except to get food, medicine or in an emergency. Closer to the site of the new patient, streets have been placed under lockdown. All flights, passenger buses, taxis and trains to and from the city have been suspended. Vietnam has recorded 450 cases and no deaths from COVID-19.