In the confinement, millions suffer at the base of the pyramid in Southeast Asia
The story is the same for tens of millions throughout Southeast Asia, where vaccines are in short supply and COVID-19 is rampant.
After more than a month of a national shutdown in Malaysia, the plight of the poor has sparked a white flag movement, with people placing them outside their homes to signal a need for food or other necessities.
In Cambodia, in Phnom Penh’s so-called COVID-19 red zones, low-income families were hit the hardest in April and May. Many went hungry because they were forbidden to leave their homes.
Vietnam’s largest cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, are also closing and another is approaching for Thailand, which is also being invaded by the Delta variant.
With low vaccination rates and high infections, governments have been given no choice but to shut down to slow transmission, but it comes at a cost and it is the vast informal sector that suffers the brunt.
“They are the most affected by the pandemic,” said Eko Listiyanto, a researcher at the Institute for Economic Development and Finance in Jakarta.
“Street food vendors, for example … now social restrictions [in Indonesia] Limit the hours of operation of restaurants, cafes and street food before 8:00 pm It creates more problems for some street food businesses, since some food and drinks are only consumed after sunset. “
Then there are the possible flow effects, although not directly quantifiable, of economic insecurity.
In the Philippines, where hard lockdowns have been a feature of the pandemic, particularly around Manila, a 57 percent increase in suicides was reported this week between 2019 and 2020.
Malaysian police have also observed an increase in the number of people committing suicide: 468 from January to the end of May this year, compared to 631 in all of 2020.
The desperation of many in Malaysia prompted tech entrepreneur Rezi Razali to launch a website and app this week to digitize the white flag campaign, facilitating a link between those who need help and those who can help.
When contacted, Razali said there were around 3,000 requests on the site and that in many cases help had been offered to people putting food on the table or paying rent, within 30 minutes of the request.
“From what I see in my data, most of the requests we saw are from urban areas, mainly Selangor and Kuala Lumpur,” he said. “Most of them are out of work, mostly manual workers.”
In Indonesia, the government of President Joko Widodo has been accused of prioritizing the economy over public health and not imposing restrictions sooner, particularly in Java. On the island where more than half the population lives, hospitals have been flooded due to soaring infections in the past three weeks.
Even when the curbs were finally imposed last Saturday, before being widened on Wednesday, it was a reluctant decision.
Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that two weeks before the restrictions were put in place, Joko had asked him to visit the poorest areas of Jakarta, where two families share a bathroom.
“Health professionals see that the faster the blockage, the better. For the middle and upper class, the faster the lockdown, the better, ”Sadikin said.
“But, from where [the] Another perspective – if you see that there are many people at the base of the pyramid – if you talk to 60% to 70% of the population of Jakarta at the lowest level, they will say to you, ‘Sir, we have to work for Live’ . “
Sadikin said information was provided to design the measures.
“This is not an ideal decision, but at least we moved forward and made this decision,” he said.
The anti-mobility measures will end on July 20, but will almost inevitably extend until infections subside, so the Indonesian government is preparing a social assistance package that will include 10 kilograms of rice for 20 million families.
Listiyanto, the economist, believes the informal sector can cope with the decline in activity for two weeks, but pushing further out “will make it harder for them to survive.”
Uwok, the motorcycle taxi, thanks the customers he still has and says “it’s better than nothing.”
But he hopes his city and country can contain the outbreak in a short time and thus get rid of the restrictions that affect their livelihoods.