COVID-19 Op-ed

The Unfortunate Case of Sacrificial Lambs: Indonesia’s New Normal and its Severe Impact on Healthcare Workers

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Arif R. HaryonoStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

Indonesia’s plan to enact the New Normal, or as the government
paraphrases it, ‘coexist with COVID-19’, will cause more harm to healthcare
workers. Indonesia is facing multiple obstacles in managing the pandemic:
shortfall of healthcare workers, protection mechanisms, and equipment, the
under-capacity of Indonesia’s health system, and the ignorance of the
population itself of the surge of COVID-19. The New Normal that the
government is forcefully imposing will not only violate the right to health
of the citizens but also put the healthcare workers in a dreadful position:
the sacrificial lamb of God.State
Prior to COVID-19, many epidemiologists
and civil societies had warned the government of Indonesia of the effects of
this pandemic. They also urged for efficiency and preparedness towards severe
effects that might occur throughout the country. Unfortunately, many
government officials responded nonchalantly. Instead of preparing the public
health sector and other sectors related to the upcoming epidemic, government
officials underestimated the virus and preferred to allocate the state’s
budget to boost the tourism sector. The rest is history. Until 27 May, more
than 23,851 were infected by the deadly virus, with the death toll continuing
to surge up to 1,473 death cases (Worldometers,
). Indonesia has one of the highest death rates of COVID-19 in
the region.Government negligence in conducting early preparation for a
pandemic has made Indonesia’s public health sector crumble. Personal
Protective Equipment (PPE) is an essential tool to protect front-line workers
from being infected by the virus (Schwartz et al.,
2020. pp. 2-3)
. Unfortunately, only doctors and nurses who work in
the Government referral hospitals can access a sufficient supply of PPE. As
of March 2020, the Ministry of Health only appointed 132 COVID-19 referral
hospitals serving 514 districts/cities in Indonesia, which raises the
possibility of under-capacity of the health sector in treating patients with
COVID-19.As opposed to healthcare workers in government-based hospitals,
healthcare workers in small private hospitals and community-based health
facilities (puskesmas or Community Health Centers) do not have the privilege
of having sufficient numbers of PPE. They have to rely on public donations to
provide them with medical supplies. Furthermore, they have to be creative
under the conditions by using cheap raincoats, sharing, and re-using
equipment which possibly exposes them to a greater threat. An example of a
threat that befalls healthcare workers is when an unknowingly-asymptomatic
COVID-19 patient consults with a doctor in health facilities. Since the supply
of face masks is limited, the doctor cannot use it while treating the
unknowingly-infected patient, thus exposing healthcare workers to the virus
(Purnamasari, 2020; Setiawan, 2020). The government’s failure to ensure an
equal distribution of PPE has caused a higher death rate among healthcare
workers. By May 2020, the death rate of healthcare workers in Indonesia has
reached 6-7 deaths per 100 cases, compared to the world average of only 0.37
percent (Pusparisa,
The pandemic preventive procedures require
the population to conduct strict physical distancing. This policy causes
economic hindrance to many people, particularly the low-middle income and the
blue-collar workers. Apparently, the state is also unable to withstand the
economic pressure any longer. President Joko Widodo has suggested the nation
stay productive despite the fact that the virus is still around (Adjie,
). Government officials will soon declare a relaxation of the
social restrictions by re-opening the economic centers, workplaces, markets,
malls, hotels, etc. (Gorbiano
and Loasana, 2020
). The New Normal is a concept of living normally
but with COVID-19 procedures in the public sphere, such as wearing a mask,
regularly washing the hands, physically distancing on queue, avoiding crowds
as much as possible, and so on.The writer believes that enacting The New
Normal just because the government cannot endure the economic pressure is an
unjustified reason. Not only will it re-expose the citizens to COVID-19 but
it will also violate and abuse the rights of safety, security, and the
well-being of healthcare workers. Even with the Large-Scale Social
Restrictions (PSBB) that are already enacted in several cities in Indonesia,
the numbers of infected people have not yet declined. Instead of relaxing the
PSBB, the writer argues the government should reinforce the PSBB until it
reaches a phase when new cases per day reach zero. The government also needs
to ensure the equal distribution of PPE to all healthcare workers without any
distinction whatsoever. During the crisis, protecting the lives of its
citizens, especially the frontline workers who work tirelessly each day
should be the top priority of every leader. Otherwise, there is no use of
having a government at all.References:Adjie,
M.F.P., 2020. ‘Let’s Coexist With Covid-19’: Jokowi Calls On
Residents To Adapt To New Normal
. The Jakarta Post . Available at:
.Gorbiano, M. I., Loasana, N. A., 2020. Indonesia Exploring to Ease
Social Restrictions
. The Jakarta Post . Available at: <>
.Purnamasari, Y., 2020. Interview on COVID-19 and Health
. Interviewed by Arif R. Haryono. . Yogyakarta, 22 April
2020, 14:00-14:30.Pusparisa, Y., 2020. Tingkat Kematian Tenaga
Kesehatan Indonesia Mencapai 6,5%
. . Available at:
Setiawan, Y., 2020. Interview on COVID-19 and Health
. Interviewed by Arif R. Haryono. . Yogyakarta, 21 April
2020, 10:00-11:00.Schwartz, J., King, C., Yen, M., 2020. Protecting
Healthcare Workers During Coronavirus Disease 2019(COVID-19) Outbreak:
Lessons from Taiwan’s Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Response.
Clinical Infectious Diseases, Brief Report.  Oxford University Press. Available at:
Worldmeters, 2020. Report Coronavirus Cases. World
Meters Info. . Available at: <>.

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