Panic Pandemic

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  • Indonesia's Red Cross personnel sprays disinfectant outside a restaurant at a department store amid the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 17, 2020. Yurianto made the prediction as he revealed there were 38 new coronavirus cases in the past two days in Indonesia, bringing the total number of infections to 172, with five recorded deaths. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

    Indonesia's Red Cross personnel sprays disinfectant outside a restaurant at a department store amid the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 17, 2020. Yurianto made the prediction as he revealed there were 38 new coronavirus cases in the past two days in Indonesia, bringing the total number of infections to 172, with five recorded deaths. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

    TEMPO.CO, JakartaPresident Joko Widodo’s administration could be accused of violating the Constitution if it does not immediately improve its strategy to deal with the spread of Covid-19.

    THE lateness and lack of integration of the government’s response to prevent the spread of the virus, which has now been declared a global pandemic, does not demonstrate a sincere endeavor to “protect the whole people of Indonesia and the entire Homeland of Indonesia” as mandated in the preamble of the 1945 Constitution.

    Last week, President Jokowi finally established a task force to accelerate the handling of Covid-19, led by the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, Doni Monardo. Unfortunately, this policy did not come with an explanation of a comprehensive and transparent strategy to build public trust and optimism.

    President Jokowi admitted to the press that the government is not passing on all of the data to the public in order to avoid panic. This is clearly a mistake. Censoring information will only make the people ask more questions about the scale of the pandemic in our nation.

    We must learn from Singapore and Taiwan. These two nations proved that transparency is the key to successfully dealing with the spread of the disease. While still protecting the identity of patients, the Taiwan government announces the time, location, movements and area of residence of people that have tested positive for the coronavirus. This way, others who may have been infected can self-report and then be tested.

    Therefore, the first priority of the task force is to improve transparency about the Covid-19 epidemic in Indonesia. The more tests that are carried out, the clearer the picture of the seriousness of the epidemic. Concealing facts will only make it more difficult for doctors and health care providers to anticipate sharp increases in the number of coronavirus patients. The government’s move to increase the number of organizations allowed to carry out coronavirus tests, although late, should be appreciated.

    After the number of tests has been increased, the process of identifying clusters of positive coronavirus cases needs to be intensified in order that everybody who has the potential to be infected or to be a carrier can be identified and isolated. It is important that all stakeholders work together to undertake this onerous task. There must be no more instances of regional governments not being invited to discuss the presence of coronavirus-positive patients in their regions.

    Moreover, aid from other countries should not be rejected. It is truly regrettable that the health ministry ignored an offer of help in the form of test kits from Singapore. This decision is dangerous, particularly because Indonesia has not joined global epidemic mitigation agencies such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations or the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility at the World Bank. Every contribution, no matter who it is from, must be met with a positive response.

    The results of a large number of tests are very important to form the basis for making the right decisions. The isolation of a region with a very high number of cases, for example, can only go ahead if the authorities have satisfactory data in hand.

    The initiative of the administrations of the city of Solo and the Special Capital Region of Jakarta to restrict gatherings, including moving school lessons online, is right. The central government should draw up similar guidelines for all regional heads. Governors, regents, and mayors must know the risk level of the epidemic in their regions and what they need to do to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

    All levels of government must understand that when dealing with this pandemic, the top priority is to protect the people. Other considerations, such as “maintaining economic growth,” should be further down the list of priorities. Officials must not rush to organize activities involving large numbers of people with the excuse of saving the hotel, transportation or tourism industries.

    With properly coordinated government measures, the people will become calmer. At this time, public solidarity must also be maintained. Every citizen must realize the need to prioritize the common interest, rather than only looking out for themselves. Without all of this, Indonesia could become the center of a new outbreak of the coronavirus precisely at a time when the epidemic in other countries is beginning to die down.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine