Highlights in the media today: Experts urge government not to put potential vaccines on pedestal, Industrial areas in Bekasi regency become high-risk zones, New draft bill strips Bank Indonesia of its independence.

Experts have urged the government not to put potential vaccines on a pedestal, and the government should rather prepare for the “worst-case scenario”. The vaccines’ efficacy threshold would be 50%, though ideally it should be around 70%, independent molecular biologist Ahmad Utomo estimated.

He added that past vaccine developments had shown that failures were not uncommon. Should the efficacy threshold be lower than 50%, then vaccines would be out of the question. If it hovered just above it then the government should reconsider whether putting in so much money into the vaccination program would be as effective as if the money was to be used to improve public health.

Both Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir have said that the vaccination program could possibly put a strain on the state budget if it were to be made free for all.

With the pressure to find vaccines as soon as possible and the government having secured hundreds of millions of doses, experts have raised concerns that these will affect decisions made by authorities, such as the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM).

As of September 4  16:02 (GMT+7), Indonesia had confirmed 187,537 COVID-19 cases, with 134,181 recoveries and 7,832 deaths. In the past 24 hours, the country had confirmed 3,269 new cases.

The Bekasi regency in West Java has recorded 698 cases from factory clusters since April. Bekasi Regency COVID-19 Task Force spokesperson Alamsyah said that the district had begun to record spikes in the number of infection cases since August 24 because of the emergence of three big clusters—LG Electronics, Suzuki, and a spare parts manufacturer—which caused Bekasi to return to its red-zone status.

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil is set to visit several factory owners in the regency today, asking them to remind workers to abide by the health protocols. The West Java administration is currently focusing on containing the virus in Bogor, Depok, and Bekasi, where four out of the five cities and regencies in the region are categorized as red zones.

Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) Bekasi Chapter Chair Sutomo said that business owners, employee representatives, and the regency’s COVID-19 Task Force had agreed in a virtual meeting on Thursday (September 3) to do early reporting of cases from company clusters and implement health protocols more strictly.

Experts and rating agencies have voiced their concerns over the recent draft for a revision of the Bank Indonesia (BI) laws, which is feared will undermine the central bank’s independence and prudence amid the pandemic.

The bill, proposed by the House of Representatives Legislation Body, states that the central bank’s mandate will be to manage the rupiah exchange rate and inflation, as well as boosting economic growth and helping ensure sustainable job creation. The prevailing laws mandate BI to manage inflation and the rupiah exchange rate.

The draft revision also scraps all existing independence in monetary policymaking by establishing a “monetary council”, consisting of the finance minister, another economic minister, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) chairperson, and BI governor and senior deputy governor. The council will lead, coordinate, and direct monetary policies to keep them in line with the government’s economic policies.

The bill also provides a legal basis for BI to purchase government bonds through auctions to cover the fiscal deficit and to purchase interest-free government bonds under certain economic conditions.

The rupiah fell by more than 1.5% against the US dollar on Wednesday (September 4) following reports on the bill. It weakened a further 0.22% on Thursday to Rp 14,777.


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