In order to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the minister of health must act swiftly to introduce social restriction practices. Forget sectoral egos and political rivalry.
LEAVING aside the pros and cons, President Joko Widodo has decided to deal with the coronavirus pandemic by implementing Large-Scale Social Restrictions (PSBB). Because of economic and social considerations, as well as the size of the Indonesian archipelago, Jokowi has chosen not to instigate nation-wide quarantine, even though epidemiologists had concluded that kind of quarantining would be the most effective way to limit the spread of the pandemic.
Because the PSBB is now a political decision, the president’s aides must immediately implement it on the ground. There are now guidelines for combating the spread of the virus. In line with regulations, the person in overall charge of the PSBB is Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto—a military doctor who once made light of the coronavirus threat. However, there is nothing we can do: important decisions about dealing with the pandemic are now in the hands of a man who once showed a lack of seriousness about dealing with Covid-19.
This reluctance was also apparent in Terawan’s decision to hand responsibility for implementing the PSBB over to the Jakarta administration. Minister Terawan dragged his feet when approving the program, including unnecessary elements, such as adding to the list of requirements and data needed for the legal justification for social distancing. This is despite the fact that this data is already held by his ministry.
Minister Terawan should have learned from the tardiness of the government in anticipating this pandemic, which led to mistakes in preventing its spread. Social distancing is the least that can be done to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases, as long as it is done properly. A number of science-based models and calculations predict a sharp increase in the number of people infected in May to June. After that, the number will fall.
Therefore, if Minster Terawan is halfhearted in implementing social restrictions—delaying the granting of permission for regional heads who have proposed the PSBB—the Corona pandemic will last longer. As a result, the economy will suffer more—a worry that continues to haunt the Jokowi administration
If the government wants economic revival to come soon, there is no alternative but to limit the spread of the virus. History has proved from pandemics such as that of 1918, that nations that quickly implement social restrictions are stronger economically because these pandemics end more quickly.
The way of ending the pandemic through the prevention of contagion is no longer a dilemma. There is no choice between stopping economic slowdown or saving lives. Only one option remains: keeping the number of deaths as small as possible. It is now certain that the pandemic will afflict all aspects of the economy. Therefore, the choice that will be recorded in history is to save people’s lives.
The initiatives taken by regional heads who have sealed off their areas before a decision on national social restrictions should be a lesson. The attempt to reduce panic by understating the seriousness of the disease has proved to be unsuccessful, and in fact has simply increased panic. A government that is ineffective, or even absent, leads to lack of discipline among the people, resulting in the virus continuing to spread. Lack of public trust in the government will worsen.
In a crisis like now, we need national leadership that can produce the best and most effective policies for the good of the people. Real leaders are not those who take advantage of the endeavor to save people from a pandemic for their own private agendas, including short-term political rivalries.