COVID-19 Op-ed

How Indonesia Dis/informs the Public about COVID-19

Written by admin

Primi Suharmadhi
Research Fellow – Department of Politics and
Government, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia and Doctoral Student –
University of Oulu, Finland

What do we know so far about the coronavirus in Indonesia? As
of April 5, 2020, the number of confirmed infections reached 2273 while the
number of deaths hit 198, making Indonesia Southeast Asia’s highest country
for coronavirus fatalities (Shira & Asscociates, 2020). Although
these figures are updated daily by the Government spokesperson, issues have
been raised about their accuracy. Experts have warned the Indonesian government
that the actual number of cases may be a lot higher due to under-reporting
(Mulyanto, 2020).Both the Jakarta and West Java governors have openly
expressed their doubt about the government’s figures (Adji et al., 2020).
They, of course, have their own valid basis in expressing such arguments;
they are the leaders of the country’s two provinces hit hardest by the new
coronavirus amidst the low rate of testing. West Java’s number of new cases
is higher than what the central government had announced. Similarly, in
Jakarta – the epicentre of novel coronavirus infections – the number of
funerals using ‘Covid-19 protocols’ surged during March (Allard et al.,
2020). What the two provinces have shown us is that, despite the ‘timely
manner’ in updating the number of cases nationwide, there is still a lack of
salient information on the actual state of the infections in Indonesia.The
government has declared a ‘civil emergency’ to impose stricter conduct on
physical distancing but opposed the regional quarantine and only ‘suggests’
that people not travel to their hometowns for upcoming Ramadhan and Idul
Fitri in a tradition known as mudik (home-bound exodus).
These seem very much useless as people have already fled home, stretching the
infection areas to almost every corner of the nation. But, what can the
government possibly still do to handle the lethal potential of the
already-spread new coronavirus?Initially, the government must adopt multiple
methods to disseminate information on the actual state of the new coronavirus
in Indonesia. Not only making the information available, but making it
accessible and salient is critical for people to be able to assess whether
the government is acting in their interest or ‘predating’ upon them (Fung,
2013). Governments may involve both experts and local leaders of embedded
traditional knowledge, such as traditional healers, customary leaders, or
religious clerics who may be heard more by the people of a particular
constituency. This way, the government can extend its reach of information
regarding, for example, the varying levels of COVID-19 symptoms and how to
promote physical distancing based on people’s knowledge and capacity to
scrutinize the information.Further, as people may experience varying forms of
distress due to uncertainties of what might happen, the government must
extend their commitment to simultaneously slowing down the spread of the
virus and listening to provide a meaningful response to people’s needs.
Beyond the conventional fiscal resources to address health, economic, and
social costs, a reliable institutionalized system that works beyond the
‘normal’ set up is also needed. Authorities need to make structural changes
in the institutions (Fox, 2015) to allow knowledge, resources and systemic
changes to be mobilized rapidly. This may include providing local health
workers – who may deal with a wide variety of cases – with tools and
knowledge to combat social stigmatization for inpatients and outpatients with
coronavirus. Lack of government engagement with citizens and failure to
respond to their needs have caused several conflicts, such as the refusal to
bury a person with COVID-19 (The Jakarta Post, 2020), and have put more
burden on the front-liners of health sectors to undertake the intricate task
of educating people about the coronavirus.Finally, a key issue underlying the
problematic Indonesian government handling of the coronavirus may be the way
it focuses on numbers and figures as the sole aspect in determining the
extent of the infection. Instead of making people more aware of the virus and
encouraging them to voluntarily do what the government suggests, it has
created rampant uncertainties among the people. Government officials should
realize that numbers are not enough and admitting such vulnerabilities may
invoke greater collective solidarities to help slow down the spread of the
coronavirus and give more space and time to our health workers taking care of
those who are in crtical condition. Not only accessible and salient
information is needed, but active engagement and response to people’s needs
may ease uncertainty and ignorance.ReferencesAdjie, M.
F. P., Arya Dipa and Ardilla Syakriah. (2020, April 5). Jakarta,
West Java governors doubt central govt COVID-19 figures
. Accessed
April 5th 2020.Allard, T., Kanupriya Kapoor, Stanley
Widianto. (2020, April 3). Exclusive:
Jump in Jakarta funerals raises fears of unreported coronavirus
. Accessed April 5th 2020.Fox, J. (2015). Social
Accountability: What
Does the Evidence Really Say
? World
.Fung, A. (2013). Infotopia:
Unleashing the democratic power of transparency
. Politics
and Society
, 41(2), 183–212.Mulyanto, R.
(2020, April 4). Indonesia
reports Southeast Asia’s highest coronavirus fatalities
. Accessed
April 5th 2020.Shira, Dezan & Associates. (2020, April 5). The
Coronavirus in Asia and ASEAN – Live Updates by Country
. Accessed
April 5th 2020.The Jakarta Post. (2020, March 31). COVID-19:
Tensions arise between residents, officials over burials in Depok,
. Accessed April 5th 2020.

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