Lesson Learned from India
The number of deaths from Covid-19 in India has soared following a religious celebration. Unfortunate result of populist decisions taken based on electoral interests.
The sharp rise in deaths resulting from coronavirus infections in India could be a valuable lesson for Indonesia. In that nation, the huge second wave of infections was triggered by populist political decisions taken for electoral reasons.
Initially, India received international praise for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic through a mass vaccination program. Now their health system has collapsed. The number of daily infections, as reported by Covid19india.org, was 318,835 on April 22, beating the record previously held by the United States of 297,430 new cases in one day.
This was triggered by a major religious celebration. On April 12, Hindus celebrated the Kumbh Mela festival of communal bathing in the River Ganges. This ritual, which is held every 12 years, was followed by between one and three million people without any health protocols. Two days later, Muslims marked the first day of Ramadan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made matters worse by allowing both a cricket match watched by 13,000 people and election campaigning in the run up to nationwide elections. The mass vaccinations, which started with old people, were thrown into chaos by these populist decisions taken to garner political support. India was struck by a coronavirus tsunami despite cases having been in decline from September 2020 until the end of last year.
The government of Indonesia must be on the alert following this explosion of infections in India, especially since there are still flights between New Delhi and Jakarta. On the evening of April 21, 135 Indian citizens arrived in Jakarta, 12 of whom were subsequently discovered to be infected with the coronavirus. The government must monitor them closely, especially since faster-spreading virus mutations from India have already infected Indonesians.
The ban on traveling to hometowns, known as mudik, during the Lebaran holiday is the right decision. The government is right to prioritize health considerations over populist decisions, especially those in connection with religious events. It would be very dangerous to take the gamble of relaxing restrictions on movement despite the claim from President Joko Widodo that the spread of the virus has been reduced. All officials, including regional leaders, must abide by the mudik ban in order to protect the public.
The mudik ban is more urgent because our vaccination program has not been progressing as quickly as had been hoped. Therefore, the fall in infections could be the result of better public discipline in following health protocols. The government must not wreck this public discipline by counterproductive decisions such as allowing local tourism to resume during the Lebaran holidays.
Opening up domestic tourism during the mudik period has the potential to trigger a huge increase in infections. The government must not repeat the confusion in the way the pandemic was handled in the beginning, which seemed halfhearted. Relaxing restrictions in order to revive the economy proved responsible for a more protracted pandemic.
Data shows that infections rose after the end of year holidays. The infection rate continued to increase and peaked at the beginning of February this year. Health facilities everywhere were full. This must not happen again. The government needs to continue controlling movement between cities. The campaign to implement health protocols must also be continued on a large scale. This will send a message to the people about the still critical situation. Decisions and statements that could give the impression that "things are already getting better" could lead to a relaxation in public discipline.
The second wave of Covid-19 infections in India provides an important lesson: populist decisions could destroy in an instant any successes in handling Covid.