Because Covid-19 does not Follow Orders
The spread of the coronavirus is becoming increasingly worrying. The government needs to immediately show seriousness in putting right its mistaken policies in order to bring the pandemic under control.
IT seems only yesterday that we heard the instruction from President Joko Widodo to his subordinates ordering them to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. In the middle of last September, the command from Jokowi to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan to bring the pandemic in nine areas under control “within two weeks” was still ringing in our ears.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic is not a soldier that follows orders from a superior. Two weeks have passed and now with a shudder we see that the curve of Covid-19 patients in Indonesia continues to rise sharply. Last Thursday, the number of people newly infected with Covid-19 was 8,369. This broke the record from March for the highest number of daily cases. The figure is also twice as high as the number of infections just one month ago.
From many hospitals, we hear the troubling news about emergency rooms that are increasingly full and the decreasing availability of ventilators. A number of Covid-19 patients have died because of delays in access to ventilators. With around 70,000 active cases across Indonesia as of the end of last week, the pressure on health services is tremendous. This is very concerning.
In only two weeks, there will be elections for regional heads followed by the long holiday for Christmas and the New Year. These three events will see people crowding together. Even with strict health protocols, there is still a risk of contagion, yet alone if there are no health protocols at all.
Since the beginning, the World Health Organization has said that the best response to the pandemic is to apply the 3Ts system of testing, tracing and treatment. This knowledge comes from the extensive experience the world has had in facing pandemics since the Spanish flu in 1918 to polio, ebola, SARS, MERS-Cov and bird flu.
The problem is that the government has never seriously followed this advice. Instead of seeking solutions using a health approach based on science, the government has been inclined to see Covid-19 as a threat to national security or economic growth. Therefore, President Jokowi has handed over control of the pandemic response to economists, politicians and soldiers, rather than the medical authorities. As a result, all government endeavors to control the coronavirus have been assessed from the impact and disruption to the economy, rather than the effectiveness of limiting the spread.
On top of this, it must be admitted that the capacity for the government to carry out detection and tracing is not yet satisfactory. The patient registration system is still in chaos, despite the fact that this is a crucial factor in the medical and scientific approach. It is no surprise that nine months have passed, and it is still proving difficult to control the pandemic.
Matters have been made worse by the irresponsible attitude of some of the elites who continue to demonstrate or remain silent about breaches of health protocols. For example, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, met with Rizieq Syihab at the latter’s home even though the founder of the Islam Defenders Front had just interacted with tens of thousands of his supporters. In other regions, local elites have ignored health protocols in election campaigns and endangered the public. As a result, a number of cities and regencies holding local elections have now been categorized as Covid-19 red zones.
President Jokowi has few choices remaining. He can either learn from the experience of the last nine months and put matters right or continue with the old ways that have proved a failure. One thing is certain: Covid-19 is not a subordinate that can be removed simply with an order.