Protests against COVID-19 restrictions spreading around the globe
Geoff Robins and Marion Thibaut Agence France-Presse/ Montréal, Canada
The Jakarta Post
Daily fatalities from COVID -19 in Indonesia have reached triple digits for the past three days, a level last seen in late September last year, as cases continue to rise, driven in large part by the highly contagious Omicron variant. According to national COVID-19 task force data, more than 100 people had lost their lives each day since Friday. Many of the deaths were recorded in the capital city of Jakarta — the epicenter of the third coronavirus wave in the country. Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indonesia have hovered at around 40,000 new cases a day over the last few days. On Saturday, more than 55,200 confirmed cases were reported, slightly lower than the record high of over 56,700 cases on July 15 last year, when Delta-fueled infections overwhelmed many hospitals on the most populated island of Java. In line with the increase in new cases, active cases — the number of COVID-19 patients that are currently in treatment or self-isolation — also rose to over 352,800 cases as of Sunday. Research has shown that infection from the Omicron variant is generally milder compared with the Delta variant — previously considered the most contagious COVID-19 variant. Experts, however, have cautioned authorities against relaxing mobility restrictions as the highly transmissible variant could still drive up new cases and potentially overwhelm hospitals. Despite the supposedly milder symptoms, the Omicron variant could still pose a significant risk for people with comorbidities, the elderly, immunocompromised people or the unvaccinated. In Jakarta and Bali, more than 50 percent of hospital beds allocated to treat COVID-19 patients were occupied as of Saturday, according to Health Ministry data. University of Indonesia’s School of Medicine professor Tjandra Yoga Aditama has called on the public and the authorities to not underestimate the Omicron variant. “Omicron is more contagious compared with Delta although fatalities [from Omicron infection] are far lower,” said Tjandra in a statement on Saturday. “However, we still need to be cautious [as] some countries have recorded a higher number of fatalities during the Omicron wave compared with the Delta wave because the sheer number of cases has also been higher compared with those of the Delta wave.” He called on the public to continue complying with health protocols, adding that the government should also strictly enforce public activity restrictions (PPKM) as well as double down on testing and contact tracing efforts to identify new cases as soon as possible. In response to the surge in COVID-19 infections, the government tightened curbs on Feb. 7 in several agglomeration areas, including Greater Jakarta, Bandung in West Java, as well as Bali and Yogyakarta provinces from PPKM level 2 to level 3 — the second highest restriction level from the government’s four-tiered system. Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who oversees the government’s pandemic response in Java and Bali, said the government had made a number of “adjustments” to the current level 3 curbs. Whereas previous iterations of level 3 curbs limited the capacity for supermarkets, malls and restaurants to 50 percent, Luhut said that the new capacity limit was now 60 percent. Level 3 curbs also previously mandated that public facilities be closed and some art and cultural activities suspended, but the new level 3 curbs allow for public places, as well as art and cultural activities, to operate at 25 percent capacity. While the government has relied on the Omicron strain being less deadly compared with its predecessors, Indonesia’s seven-day average for the case fatality rate — the number of deaths divided by the total number of confirmed cases — has in fact been higher compared with some countries. This includes India and Brazil, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data. Canadian demonstrators led by truckers angry over COVID-19 restrictions defied police and kept occupying a key bridge Saturday, while thousands more rallied in the capital as a two-week-old protest showed no signs of abating. The demonstrations have inspired copycat protests that are now spreading around the globe, including to France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia. In Ontario, where authorities have declared a state of emergency, the provincial supreme court had ordered truckers to end their blockade of the strategic Ambassador Bridge, which links the city of Windsor in Canada to Detroit, Michigan in the United States. The protest has forced major automakers in both countries to halt or scale back production and Washington on Friday urged Ottawa to use its federal powers to end the blockade. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised “an increasingly robust police intervention,” adding that borders cannot remain closed and “this conflict must end”. Canadian police, backed by armored vehicles, began clearing the bridge, taking down tents erected in traffic lanes and persuading some drivers to move their trucks. But by Saturday evening, after hours of facing off against the demonstrators, the police had not completely cleared the span. Most of the cars and trucks blocking it were removed but hundreds of people refused to budge. The Ambassador Bridge is vital to the US and Canadian auto industries, carrying more than 25 percent of merchandise exported by both countries. In Ottawa, crowds of thousands packed the streets of the city center, the epicenter of the movement, blaring horns, playing music, dancing and drinking hot coffee against the bitter cold. Very few police were on hand. Truckers originally converged on Ottawa to press their demand for an end to a vaccination requirement affecting truckers crossing the international border. But the movement has spread, as the protesters — mostly insisting they want to protect their freedoms, but some displaying swastikas or Confederate flags — now seek an end to all vaccine mandates, whether imposed by the federal or provincial governments. Since the movement began, some central Canadian provinces have announced plans to end mask and vaccine requirements in coming weeks, with the numbers of COVID-19 cases falling. But the two most populous provinces — Ontario and Quebec — have yet to follow suit. The truckers have found support among conservatives and vaccine mandate opponents across the globe, even as COVID-19 measures are being rolled back in many places. In Paris on Saturday, police fired tear gas and issued hundreds of fines in an effort to break up convoys of vehicles coming from across France in a protest over COVID-19 restrictions and rising living costs. In the Netherlands, a vehicle convoy brought The Hague’s city center to a standstill in another Canada-style protest. In Switzerland, hundreds of protesters marched in Zurich to protest COVID-19 restrictions, while several thousand others rallied against them, Swiss media reported. Both rallies were illegal, and police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. In Australia, an estimated 10,000 protesters marched through capital Canberra to the parliament building to decry vaccine mandates.