Playing with Fire
The government wants to end the social restrictions protocol so the economy can start moving again. Data is still a problem.
IT is too early for the government to relax the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB), especially in economic centers. The government would like to restart the business centers that can still operate during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government’s plan was announced by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud Md. last week.
The government has clearly seen that the economic circumstances, especially for the middle to lower income group, which is really suffering, mean that people urgently need help. There is also the suffering of tens of thousands of workers who have been furloughed or lost their jobs, including online taxi drivers, who now have no customers. Clearly direct cash assistance is not going to be much help because of the enormous numbers involved. Relaxing the restrictions might be of more help.
There is nothing wrong with considering this. But it must be remembered that the implementation of large-scale social restrictions was not based on economic or business considerations, but on health. The parameters are clear: the increase of the numbers of patients under observation, the number of people positive with corona, the number of deaths, the number who have recovered and the way the virus is spreading. If the trend is downward, relaxation could be considered.
This is why comprehensive and consistent data is so important. What happened in Jakarta could serve as an example. As of April 21, there was extraordinary optimism because the increase in number of Corona positive cases fell and the curve appeared to be flattening. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan began to talk about ending the PSBB. Head of the Covid-19 task force Doni Monardo even said that the Covid-19 pandemic would end in June.
Doni’s statement and the optimism from government officials was sorely misplaced. One piece of evidence is, again, Jakarta. Last week, the number of additional Corona positive cases soared to more than 100 per day. Last, national data also showed an increase, although small, of 334 cases, compared to 327 the week before. This means that the opportunity for relaxing, yet alone ending social distancing, is still very small.
Furthermore, it turns out that the PSBB in greater Jakarta, the epicenter of Covid-19, has not been followed properly. A study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies together with Facebook using the Facebook Disease Prevention Map showed that the mobility of people was still high after the PSBB was implemented on April 10. The map shows data concerning the movement of Facebook users who have activated Facebook and the GPS on their cell phones. One area with high mobility is the West Bekasi-Jakarta corridor.
Given this data, the government should completely forget about relaxing or ending social distancing in the near future, especially since the validity of the Covid-19 data is still in doubt. For example, is the number of corona positive cases in Indonesia low because it is really small, or is it because of the small number of tests is resulting in a low figure? Conclusions could be wildly wrong if the data is not valid.
The government is playing with fire if it goes ahead with its plan to relax social distancing. The better approach would be to provide satisfactory health facilities. As well as this, the government should improve the data for recipients of assistance. During the first month, much of this assistance failed to reach its targets. If this continues, the aim of providing assistance will not be met. Indonesia will then move further away from the end of Covid-19 pandemic.