COVID-19 Op-ed

Indonesia, Making Sense of Coronavirus

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Yulida Nuraini SantosoASEAN
Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada

As citizens of Indonesia carefully eyed the latest number of
positive cases of the Coronavirus and death tolls, sad news struck. On
Wednesday evening, 25 March 2020, officials announced the passing of Mrs.
Sujiatmi Notomiharjo at the age of 77, the mother of the President of Indonesia,
Joko Widodo (Jokowi). Despite being safely sheltered from the radar of
national news for years, for many the news of her passing still hit close to
home. News outlets across the country broadcasted her funeral live and news
of her passing for 48 consecutive hours.This sudden passing concealed ongoing
news in the country on the COVID-19 testing for lawmakers and their families
despite the outpouring of public outrage, the severe lack of protective gear
for medical personnel across the country forcing
some to wear disposable plastic raincoats
, the early home-bound
exodus ahead of Idul Fitri despite government appeals to
avoid travel, and the determination of the government to not impose any form
of lockdown in the country. This, for Jokowi, was a storm in the making.In
facing the outbreak head-on, he opted for massive tracing, testing, and
isolation of infected patients, as was the approach chosen by South Korea.
This was in contrast to lockdown measures to contain the spread in Malaysia,
Spain, and the United Kingdom. However, many criticise this as being ‘too
little too late’. Even if the lockdown were to take place, Jokowi had wasted
precious weeks convincing the world there were zero cases. On the same day
that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Coronavirus outbreak a
global pandemic, Indonesia confirmed its first death due to the Coronavirus.
Ironically, it has even ranked first in highest death rate at 8.73%, as of 26
March 2020. This percentage is expected to increase exponentially in the
months to come, if the spread cannot be effectively contained.On the bright
side, COVID-19 tests can now be performed at 12 labs across Indonesia, three
of which are in Jakarta. This is, however, far from meeting the criteria and
needs of massive tracing and testing, bearing in mind the 34 provinces spread
across the archipelago, the rapid rate of the exponential growth, and the
lack of government appetite to implement a thorough lockdown. Critics blame
Jokowi’s reluctancy on the impact it will have on the exchange rate of the
Rupiah. The Rupiah has inched ever closer to Rp 17.000,- against the US
Dollar, which is the weakest the nation has seen since the 1998 crisis. Even
the recent injection to financial markets by the Bank of Indonesia has not
done much to alleviate tensions.Notwithstanding the turbulence that the
COVID-19 has caused, many have taken to the streets and online to launch
humanitarian campaigns, public appeals, and social causes all of which are
aimed at supporting the most vulnerable members of the society. These acts
are aimed particularly towards those who cannot afford the luxury of ‘working
from home’ despite the exponential growth of the virus and government appeal
to adhere to ‘social distancing’. Many private sectors have joined, offering
certain services free of charge for the weeks to come.Right now, Jokowi is
looking at a greater dilemma: whether to put medical front liners at further
risk by sticking to a partial lockdown, or attempt to flatline the
Coronavirus curve with a complete lockdown at severe economic and security
cost — a luxury Indonesia cannot afford. Yet under this immense pressure,
the nation managed to see humanity. A moving image of the President became
viral that night. It depicted him wiping his tears, alone, in a corner, as if
struggling to make sense of this loss and beaten by the battle which has yet
to be fought. That Wednesday, for a split moment, Indonesia not only placed
the pandemic into perspective, it saw the face of a son who lost his
mother.ReferencesAdi,
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