COVID-19 Op-ed

Prematurely Entering the New Normal in Indonesia: Widening Social, Economic and Political Gaps during COVID-19 and Beyond

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Dominique VirgilExecutive
Director of Sandya Institute and Graduate of the Faculty of Law, Universitas

Indonesia is currently second Southeast Asian country with the
highest recorded cases of COVID-19, only lagging behind Singapore. Beginning
from its first case in early March, there have been 22,750 confirmed cases of
COVID-19 with the number of fatalities of 1,391 as per 25 May 2020. While the
number of cases continue to rise by the hundred everyday, the Government is
already exploring ways to relax restrictions, according to the national
COVID-19 task force chief, Doni Monardo. Furthermore, President Joko Widodo
also said that Indonesians ought to “coexist” with COVID-19 and to make peace
with the virus, despite echoing the information from , the World Health
Organisation (WHO) that the virus would not disappear (The Jakarta Post,
2020). As the impact of the virus is disproportionate, the idea of “new
normal” might work differently towards everyone, along with its possible
disproportionate implications that might widen the inequality gap.Unequal
access to quality health serviceshad already existed before Covid-19 ravaged
the country.The poor public health system is facing its greatest challenge
yet due to this pandemic. Worse, there seems to be no systematic attempt from
the Government to support the ailing system.  Data the Ministry of
Health revealed that Indonesia has the lowest numer of hospital beds per
thousand population in the ASEAN region; since it only has 2,813 hospitals in
total, of which 1,787 are privately managed. Furthermore, the lack of testing
capacity still haunts the fear of growing undetected cases, since the country
is still struggling to reach 10,000 tests per day due to scarce equipment and
human resources (Healthcare Resource Guide: Indonesia, 2019).The
aforementioned elements are proof that the government’s fulfillment of the
right to health has failed. Furthermore, other vital health elements are
also  such as “adequate supply of safe and potable water and basic
sanitation, adequate housing and safe and hygienic working conditions, an adequate
supply of food and proper nutrition” according to Paragraph 15 of the General
Comment No. 14 of 2000 on the right to health. There is a big possibility
that these crucial elements will be harder to fulfill after the pandemic, due
to the growing poverty rate and the possibility of housing and sanitation
crisis after the pandemic.The National Development Agency has forecasted that
3.63 million people will fall into poverty if economic growth drops to 0% as
a result of the pandemic, meaning that it will make 10.54% of the population
in poverty (The Conversation, 2020). Before the pandemic, over half of
Indonesians live in urban areas, of which,1 in 5 urban residents live in
slums, according to the data by the World Bank (World Bank, 2019). The growing
crisis of inadequate housing and sanitation after COVID-19, especially of
those living in urban areas may lead them to greater health risks. In
addition, there are only 74 percent of citizens in Indonesia have access to
clean drinking water, including in the capital. According to an article
written by Sudirman Nasir, “Inequality across the archipelago directly or
indirectly shapes people’s health and wellbeing particularly in the pandemic
since it influences their ability to comply to preventive measures on a daily
basis” (The Jakarta Post, 2020).The situation is worsened by the ambition of
the Government to prioritize the economic recovery and gear the economic
activities back way before the situation is conducive enough. Experts from
Eijkman-Oxford Clinical Research Unit (EOCRU) lamented the absence of
COVID-19 epidemic curve that is in line with epidemiological science
standards displayed by the Government, thus making them doubtful with the
claim that COVID-19 cases have decreased (, 2020). On 7 May,
President Joko Widodo instructed that the curve should be flattened this
month “by any means necessary”. Without policies supported by tangible data
that the cases are decreasing, any decision from the Government to implement
the “new normal” will exacerbate the disproportionate impacts on the
marginalized.Aside from people’s affordability to health lifestyle, the
growing poverty rate is also attributable to the loss of income experienced
by people, especially those who are laid-off, earning low income, or even
working as temporary or informal workers. Somehow, the Government’s solution
to this is through prioritizing the pre-employment card program, complemented
by social safety nets whose distribution is rigged and problematic. Scaling
up the skills of people with the uniform sets of trainings while disregarding
the differences of their backgrounds and jobs is not only ineffective, but
also is not a solution to the root cause. Without ensuring the crucial role
of the employers and business actors to provide for jobs that support decent
living standards, added by no durable program from the Government to
reintegrate the laid-off people into the labour market to gain their income,
it will be even harder for these people to afford healthy lifestyle as
determinants of the right to health.The lack of priority to the improvement
of people’s accessibility to the public health system and the top-down
approach by the Government of Indonesia is exacerbated by the longstanding
inequality among the people that is neglected in this pandemic. Instead of
merely focusing on getting the business running in a shortest time possible,
the Government should ensure that the people have equal access to the health
system, especially during the pandemic, and take into account the lack of
adequate housing and health lifestyle that is still not affordable to the
poorest communities. The focus should also be prioritized to assist the most
impacted communities in Indonesia to survive their daily lives, since they
will be valuable labour forces to recover country’s economy.In this pandemic,
Government has to take the lead to flatten the curve through
scientifically-sound policies and well-enforced regulations instead of
depending on the compliance of Indonesians to the measures taken.. Only with
this, the “new normal” will not exacerbate the sufferings of vulnerable
people impacted by the pandemic, and will create a better and a more equal
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