In confinement, millions of people suffer at the bottom of the pyramid in Southeast Asia
The story is the same for tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia, where vaccines are scarce and COVID-19 is rampant.
After more than a month of nationwide lockdown in Malaysia, the plight of the poor has spawned a white flag movement, with people placing them outside their homes to signal a need for food or other necessities.
In Cambodia, in the so-called COVID-19 red zones of Phnom Penh, low-income families were the hardest hit 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 entering lockdown and another approach for Thailand, which is also being overrun with the Delta variant.
With low vaccination rates and high infections, governments have had little choice but to shut down to slow transmission, but it comes at a cost and it is the large informal sector that bears the brunt.
“They are the ones who are hit hard by the pandemic,” said Eko Listiyanto, a researcher at the Institute for Economic and Financial Development in Jakarta.
“Street vendors for example … now social restrictions [in Indonesia] limit the opening hours of restaurants, cafes and street food to 8 p.m. This creates more problems for some street food companies as some food and drink is not consumed until after sunset. “
Then there are the potential spillover effects, although not directly quantifiable, of economic insecurity.
In the Philippines, where hard closures have been a hallmark of the pandemic, particularly around Manila, a 57% increase in suicides from 2019 to 2020 was reported this week.
Malaysian police have also noted an increase in the number of people committing suicide – 468 from January to the end of May this year, up from 631 for 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, making it easier to connect those who need help and those who can help. .
When contacted, Razali said there were around 3,000 inquiries on the site. He said in many cases people have been offered help putting food on the table or paying rent, within 30 minutes of the request.
“From what I see from my data, the majority of the requests that we have seen are from urban areas, mainly Selangor and Kuala Lumpur,” he said. “The majority of them are unemployed, most of them blue collar workers. “
In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo’s government has been accused of prioritizing the economy over public health and failing to impose restrictions earlier, especially in Java. On the island, where more than half of the population lives, hospitals have been inundated due to the surge in infections over 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 a fortnight before the restrictions were put in place, Joko asked him to visit the poorest areas of Jakarta where two families share a bathroom.
“Health professionals are finding that the faster the lockdown, the better. For the middle class and above all, the faster the lockdown, the better, ”Sadikin said.
” But of [the] another perspective – if you see that there are a lot of people at the bottom of the pyramid – if you talk to the 60-70% of the population of Jakarta at the lowest level, they say to you, “Sir, we have to work for live ‘. “
Sadikin said comments were provided during the design of the measures.
“It’s not an ideal decision, but at least we have moved forward and made this decision,” he said.
Anti-mobility measures are due to end on July 20 but will almost inevitably be extended until infections subside, so the Indonesian government is preparing a social assistance program that will include 10 kilograms of rice for 20 million families.
Listiyanto, the economist, estimates that the informal sector can handle the decline in activity for two weeks, but if pushed further “it will be more difficult for them to survive.”
Uwok, the motorcycle taxi driver, is grateful for the customers he still has, saying “it’s better than nothing”.
But he hopes his city and country can contain the epidemic before too long and thus get rid of restrictions affecting his livelihood.