Chaotic Response to the Pandemic
Relying on a vaccine as the only solution, the government has lost its way in its handling of the pandemic. This is a reflection of Jokowi’s poor leadership.
ESTABLISHING a team to accelerate the development of a vaccine, but ignoring mass testing and tracing of Covid-19 patients, is the same as simply giving up. A number of nations are indeed racing to discover quick fixes to confer immunity from the virus, but even if a vaccine is developed, the three main principles of overcoming the pandemic—testing, tracing, and treating—cannot be ignored.
So far, Indonesia has yet to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) standard in carrying out tests on a minimum of 1,000 people per 1,000,000 head of population per week. Apart from Jakarta, a number of regions are dragging their feet in pursuit of this target. Most regional heads do not care and even give the impression that they are happy with the small number of reported Covid-19 cases resulting from the limited number of tests. However, with the right testing and proper tracing, Indonesia would be able to map the coronavirus, which is particularly important in producing vaccines and medical treatments.
Many epidemiologists have warned that vaccines will not be available in the immediate future. Clinical trials need time. AstraZeneca PLC, a company developing a vaccine in the United States, has just paused its phase three trials because a volunteer experienced side-effects. At present, AstraZeneca is in the lead in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.
Therefore, it was very odd when President Joko Widodo said that a Covid-19 vaccine would be available in Indonesia at the beginning of 2021. The president should have been honest and stated that what the government is currently trying to do is to import a vaccine made by Chinese company Sinovac—if this vaccine is finally developed and approved by the WHO.
Instead of misguiding the public, the government should explain the measures it will take if a vaccine becomes available. Providing it to 70 percent of the 260 million population—each of whom will need two injections at different times—will not be easy. Who will be prioritized, how these prioritized people will be identified, how the vaccine will be distributed and who will carry out the vaccinations on the ground are a number of questions that will have to be answered in the future.
Without proper preparations, the vaccine will simply turn into a business opportunity: whoever is prepared to pay the price will be prioritized in the vaccination program. And remember that the vaccine will have to be continually modified because it is believed that the virus will mutate and produce new variants. In other words, the war on Covid-19 is a long-term effort that will not immediately be won as soon as the vaccine is developed.
This long war needs resilience and strong leadership. A comprehensive strategy to oppose the virus must be implemented by an organization that is solid and does not simply paper over the cracks. The ad hoc organizations that the President has been setting up will not be effective because officials are bogged down in in political rivalry and matters of sectoral egos.
Just look at what has happened since the pandemic hit. Initially the President established the Covid-19 task force. Led by Lt. Gen. Doni Monardo, it was hoped that this task force would be able to come up with smart solutions to deal with the pandemic. What actually happened was that it found it difficult to anything due to not having the resources to implement measures as they are all under the control of the health ministry.
The government then established two more teams: the Committee to Handle Covid-19 and Restore the National Economy and the National Team for the Acceleration of the Development of a Covid-19 Vaccine. However, these both fell victim to the same problem: sectoral egos and the political interests of a small number of people. Without a change in vision and strong leadership, Indonesia only has a small chance to win the war on this pandemic.