ONE of just a few examples of good news from this Corona pandemic is the flourishing of solidarity everywhere.
The mutual aid among citizens has compensated for much of the tardiness of the bureaucracy and the authorities at various levels who were too hesitant when Covid-19 struck. Welcoming the enthusiasm of many people to lend a hand, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani even opened a special bank account to receive public donations to reduce the burden on the state.
Since the coronavirus officially struck Indonesia on March 2, marked by a public announcement about the first positive patient by President Joko Widodo and Minister of Health Terawan Agus Putranto, a number of restrictions have been implemented. Economic activity has practically ground to a halt. Millions of people around the country have lost their sources of income. Some people do not even have enough savings to live off. At this challenging time, the first assistance for those in difficulty often comes in the form of helping hands from their neighbors.
Every day we have seen how solidarity has flourished and spread to every corner of the country. A number of groups have collected funds that are then shared out to communities that need them, either in the form of cash, groceries or processed foods, or health equipment such as masks and protective clothing. Others have donated personal protective equipment directly to hospitals and other medical facilities, or have handed over aid to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
There have also been online initiatives to provide help. On the donation platform Kita Bisa (We Can) with the hashtag #IndonesiaLawanCorona (Indonesia Fights Corona), as of the beginning of this month more than 760,000 donors had given Rp129 billion. One after another, artists and celebrities held charity concerts from their homes. In short, many communities in Indonesia have been standing together to overcome the problems caused by the Covid-19 onslaught.
All of these initiatives are a relief because this fatal virus not only attacks health, but also creates social problems. Panic, confusion and also the widening of the social divide could result in threats to security. However, rather than driving us apart, these problems have brought people together. There are still bad people—for example those who refused to bury a nurse who had died of the coronavirus. But their numbers are not significant. Humanitarian values have reduced this excessive exclusivity.
These high level of awareness in communal living is a very welcome development. Of course, this is nothing new. In a number of major disasters in this country, from the tsunami that devastated Aceh at the end of 2004 to the earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, in 2018, public solidarity has flourished. However, the scale and form of the disaster brought about by the coronavirus is very different. Almost every region of Indonesia has felt the impact, with lower income people suffering the most. Strong social solidarity has become very important.
This pandemic will not be over in the short term. The people should continue to strengthen solidarity. Long-term resilience is important so that we do not end up with survival of the fittest, especially since the ability of the government to respond to this pandemic is so concerning.
We lost crucial time when officials of the Joko Widodo administration seemed to downplay the danger of the pandemic when it first began to spread in Indonesia. Many questioned how far scientific and medical considerations formed the basis for decision-making. After the virus infected many people in a short time, the government seemed uncertain at best.
The lack of preparedness of the government was also caused by the fact that there were no large-scale swab tests in Indonesia. This means that official data about the spread of the coronavirus in Indonesia has never reflected the real situation on the ground. Chronically inaccurate demographic data also led to the distribution of aid in the last two weeks descending into chaos.
The government should make things easier for this humanitarian movement from the people for the people in these challenging times. It is a complete overreaction for the security forces to take repressive moves against activists. The events in Yogyakarta at the beginning of March where the security forces broke up an aid distribution meeting must not happen again.
The government should encourage these initiatives that have sprung up among the people. But exactly the opposite has happened: the government has tended to ignore them or take counterproductive measures, such as agreeing to changes in controversial laws. This type of action only shows the lack of solidarity of the government with its own people.