COVID-19 Op-ed

Indonesia’s Lack of COVID-19 Preparedness and its Human Rights Impact

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Written by: Dominique Virgil

Virgil is a recent law graduate from University of Indonesia, majoring in
Public International Law. She is currently a Researcher in Amnesty International.
This piece strictly represents author’s personal view, not any institution or
organization. Dominique can be reached through her e-mail:
COVID-19 outbreak in January 2020 used to be seen as an
insignificant threat, given its low fatality rate compared to the 2002-2003
SARS outbreak. Originating from China, this virus has infected thousands of
people in more than 194 countries around the world (World Meters, 2020).
The world has grown more weary due to the horror that this pandemic has
caused in Italy, whose deaths have exceeded the number in China (Quinn,
2020).Indonesia was among the last countries, especially in Southeast Asia,
which detected its first positive case of COVID-19 infection. Its inaugural
announcement was made by President Joko Widodo on 2 March, directly caused
wide-spread panic buying among Jakartans. Not long after that, the cases have
been increasing exponentially, reaching 686 cases with 55 deaths as per
Tuesday, making this the highest fatality rate in the world (The Jakarta
Post, 2020). Indonesia is now struggling to reduce the acceleration of
infection among its people: from opening up buildings as temporary hospitals,
buying medicines and needed medical utilities from China, until planning the
cash transfers for vulnerable workers only in a span of less than 2 weeks.It
is left for us to wonder: have the Government of Indonesia conducted adequate
precautions to increase national preparedness to face this pandemic? Have the
Government of Indonesia learned from the fatality of this pandemic from other
countries? What are the impacts of this action towards human
rights?Controversial statements from the stakeholders are the benchmark to
assess Indonesia’s preparedness to face this pandemic. First is the statement
from the Health Minister, Terawan Agus, depicting Indonesia as “immune” to the
virus. Another ignorant move by the Government on the gravity of this
pandemic is also shown by the Health Minister’s statement, claiming that the
study conducted by Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard Professor, was an “insult” to the
country and its ability to handle the virus (The Jakarta Post, 2020).The
issuance of social-distancing was uttered by President Joko Widodo only when
the cases have reached 117 on 15 March (CNBC Indonesia, 2020). This
excludes the possibility of undetected cases in Indonesia, especially in the
Greater Jakarta Area where enormous amount of people commute by public
transportation everyday. This was only issued after the letter from the
Director General of World Health Organization gained public attention, urging
the President to ‘scale up the country’s emergency response
mechanism’ (The Jakarta Post, 2020). The decision to conduct rapid test
was only publicly announced exactly three weeks after the first finding of
COVID-19 case in Indonesia (BBC Indonesia, 2020). This action is deemed as
too late by some, since the number keeps growing exponentially and that not
everyone in Indonesia is able to implement “working from home” and “social
distancing” policies, such as casual daily workers.The high importance of the
fulfilment of the right to health has gained international acknowledgment as
it has been enshrined in Article 12 of the International Covenant on
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Included in this right is the
right to prevention, treatment, and control of diseases as well as the right
to access equal and timely access to basic preventive health services and
education, as regulated in paragraph 16 and 17 of General Comment No. 14 of
2000. This entails the States’ “obligation to fulfill” in a form of ensuring
the provision of health care, including programmes against major infectious
disease. On the other hand, General Comment No. 3 of the UN Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee) also explains in
concrete that States have the obligation to take all appropriate measures,
including but not limited to legislative measures towards the realization of
the rights within ICESCR, which includes the right to health as previously
mentioned.In a bigger picture, States have the obligation to act with “due
diligence”, meaning that States have to take all appropriate measures to
ensure the fulfillment of human rights, emphasizing the need to take prudent
steps to avoid a range of bad outcomes which may constitute as a violation to
the rule of international law (McDonald, 2019). In this context, the
Government of Indonesia has the obligation to mitigate the risks to prevent
violation against the right to health in COVID-19 pandemic. As previously
mentioned, the delay of the Government in initiating steps to mitigate the
risks of COVID-19 pandemic within its territory has caused a violation to the
right to health of its citizens, while also failing to slow down the
infection rate in the country.Given the vast increase of infection rate in
Indonesia, the lack of preparedness from the government measured by the
number of infrastructure and health workers, the impact of this virus has
grown so severe. Indonesia needs to learn from Singapore, whose preparedness
has gained worldwide compliments and appreciation after it is revealed that
Singapore has ‘invested heavily in outbreak preparation and building up the
public health preparedness clinics after the SARS outbreak in 2003, including
its transparent public health communication (Hsu & Tan, 2020).
Despite the progress made in the past one week, the Government of Indonesia
is still in urgent need to determine and implement a more effective strategy
to fulfill the right to health of the people within its territory.BibliographyBBC
Indonesia. (2020, March 20). Virus
corona: Antara 600.000 hingga 700.000 ‘berisiko terpapar’, pemerintah
Indonesia lakukan rapid test
. Cited March 25, 2020CNBC Indonesia.
(2020, March 16). Corona
di RI: Kasus 117 Orang, Jokowi Imbau Bekerja di Rumah
. Cited March
25, 2020Hsu, L. Y., & Tan, M.-H. (2020, March 23). What
Singapore can teach the U.S. about responding to
. Retrieved from StatNews:McDonald, N. (2019,
October). The Role of Due Diligence in International Law.
International and Comparative Law Quarterly.Quinn, C.
(2020, March 20). Italy’s
Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses China’s
. Retrieved from
Foreign Policy.The Jakarta Post. (2020, February 15). ‘It’s
meant to help’: Harvard professor responds after government dismisses study
on undetected coronavirus cases. Jakarta
. Cited March 25, 2020The
Jakarta Post. (2020, March 14). COVID-19:
WHO urges Jokowi to declare national emergency
. Cited March 25,
2020The Jakarta Post. (2020, March 24). Indonesia’s
Latest COVID-19 Figures. Jakarta, Indonesia
. Cited March 25,
2020World Meters. (2020, March 25). COVID-19
Coronavirus Pandemic. Cited March 25, 2020

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