Some civil servants in Indonesia’s capital began working from home Monday under measures aimed at reducing traffic congestion to alleviate horrendous air pollution that has gripped the city and been blamed for President Joko Widodo’s persistent cough.
Air quality in Jakarta, a megacity of 10.5 million, has deteriorated to dangerous levels in recent weeks, with Swiss technology company IQAir ranking it as the world’s most polluted city on August 9.
Widodo has called for urgent government intervention, chairing an emergency cabinet meeting with ministers on August 14 to discuss worsening air pollution and appealing to workers in the capital to ease traffic congestion by working from home.
“The air quality in the Greater Jakarta Area has been very, very bad,” Widodo said. “The extended dry season spanning the past three months has intensified pollutant levels … If deemed necessary, we will advocate for a hybrid work system in offices, a blend of on site and remote work.”
Half the civil service will work from home starting Monday, according to an order issued by interim Jakarta Gov. Heru Budi Hartono, and will gradually increase to 75% of the workforce from September until October 21.
The policy will apply to government offices but not to hospitals, fire and rescue services or public transport, said Jakarta provincial government spokesperson Sigit Wijatmoko.
“Work from home arrangements will not disrupt public services,” Wijatmoko said in comments carried by CNN affiliate CNN Indonesia. “Work will continue.”
Schools located near key ASEAN Summit venues will also enforce distance learning for students from September, Wijatmoko added.
Indonesian officials are feeling the pressure ahead of the 43rd ASEAN Summit, which will be held at the Jakarta Convention Center in early September. ASEAN is a regional bloc that brings together 10 Southeast Asian countries, many of which have long suffered high pollution levels in their major cities.
Ministers in the Southeast Asian country confirmed this week that President Widodo had been battling a cough for weeks and suggested it could be related to worsening air pollution in Jakarta.
Air pollution has long plagued the Greater Jakarta area, with factories, coal-fired power plants and traffic congestion all contributing to the smog, according to experts.
Speaking to reporters after the emergency cabinet meeting last week, Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said the government was looking at “concrete steps” to improve Jakarta’s air quality in the long term.
“If we look at Beijing’s success, I am very confident that with the collaboration of local governments and businesses, we can also improve air quality in Jakarta,” Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said previously, referring to the Chinese government’s success in improving air quality in its capital.
Experts previously told CNN the health costs of Indonesia’s air pollution cannot be underestimated.