The Curious Case of Coronavirus in Indonesia: How bad is it?
It has been almost three months since the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic hit Indonesia, and the number of infected daily still does not show signs of slowing down. Data at worldometers.info at May 27, 2020 shows that the nation has 23,851 positive cases, with 62,609 suspected cases, 6,057 recoveries, and 1,473 deaths. Meanwhile, total tests were at 278,411.
If we dive deeper into the numbers, the nation has tested 1,019 per 1 million population, or 11.85 test/1 million population per day since March 2, 2020, the date when Covid-19 hit Indonesia. Death rate was at 6.18% and recovery rate was at 25.40%, while the worldwide death rate to this date was also at 6.18% and recovery rate 43.02%. While it looks promising, however, if one analyses the data even further, Indonesia’s death rate was at 21st percentile, while the recovery rate was even worse, sitting at the 14th percentile. For clarification, 79% of all the other countries in the world that were affected by Covid-19 had a better death rate and 86% others had a better recovery rate.
Starting at Indonesia’s test of 1,019 per 1 million population, the nation was ranked 162nd out of 189 countries and territories (out of 218) that had data of total tests. Among those countries that performed worse than Indonesia, only Sudan (4,146), Nigeria (8,344), and Afghanistan (12,456) had confirmed Covid-19 cases of more than 2,500. Côte d'Ivoire was close at 2,477 but the remaining 24 countries had 1,200 or lower cases.
Continuing at Indonesia’s death rate of 6.18%, which sits at the 174th out of 218 countries and territories, or as explained before, at the 21st percentile. Among those countries that recorded a higher death rate, only Brazil (6.25%, 396,166 cases), Algeria (7.03%, 8,857 cases), Ecuador (8.60%, 38,103 cases), and Mexico (10.91%, 74,560 cases) that also have a young population pyramid, like Indonesia, and more than 5,000 cases. Several countries that had worse death rate with more than 2,500 cases like Belgium (16.26%), France (15.63%), Italy (14.31%), United Kingdom (14.02%), Hungary (13.31%), Netherlands (12.83%), Sweden (12.03%), Spain (9.55%), and Canada (7.73%) all had strikingly high death rates but has an older population pyramid. While younger countries like Yemen (20.70%), Western Sahara (11.11%), Chad (8.95%), Guyana (7.91%), Niger (6.62%), Mali (6.27%), and Burkina Faso (6.27%) all had below 1,000 cases up-to-date, with Western Sahara only 9 cases.
Lastly, Indonesia’s recovery rate of 25.40% sits at the 188th out of 216 countries and territories that recorded total recoveries. Of all countries that had worse recovery rates, only Yemen (3.91%), Sweden (14.17%), and Philippines (23.30%) had a death rate of above 5%.
If one combined all the three parameters, using a simple ranking evaluation by giving a point for each rank for each parameter, i.e. the country that had the lowest test rate will be given 1 and the best given 189, the country that had the highest death rate will be given 1 and the lowest 218, and the country that had the lowest recovery rate will be given 1 and the highest 216, one can obtain the following results.
Only four countries that performed worse overall worldwide behind Indonesia, which are Yemen, Mauritania, Sudan, and Angola. Sweden, for example, had a strikingly higher death rate (12.03%) and lower recovery rate (14.17%) than Indonesia, but they tested 23,659 out of 1 million, which is a 23x faster rate than how Indonesia has been responding so far. Conversely, countries like Nigeria had significantly lower tests per 1 million population, compared to Indonesia, at 216, but managed to have much better results in terms of death rate (2.98%) and a slightly higher recovery rate (28.58%).
So, what went wrong?
At US$ 1,111.71 billion, Indonesia’s GDP ranked 16th highest in the world, making it one of the strongest economies in the world. People would expect better results and responses than what was done so far. In comparison, Yemen ranked 100th, Mauritania 147th, Sudan 98th, and Angola 62nd. Philippines and Egypt, which had just about similar fates than Indonesia, ranked 36th and 40th in terms of GDP, with US$ 356.81 billion and US$ 302.26 billion, respectively, a figure that is almost 1/4th the size of Indonesia’s economy.
Indonesia first reported a Covid-19 case on March 2, 2020, a much later date than when Covid-19 hit Southeast Asia in Thailand, on January 13, 2020. Neighbouring countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Philippines reported their first cases a few days afterwards, with Brunei (March 9), Myanmar (March 23), and Laos (March 24) reporting later than Indonesia.
However, this raises questions regarding the transparency of Indonesian government as it took quite a while, 49 days to be exact, for a nation of 270 million people to report its first case after Covid-19 first hit the region of Southeast Asia. On February 27, 2020, Indonesian Health Minister Dr Terawan Agus Putranto told Reuters.com that the absence of the virus was a blessing from the Almighty. Previously, Putranto stated that on February 23, 2020, a death of a Singaporean man in Batam showing Covid-19-like symptoms were noted as “unspecified disease” and a death of a 37-year-old man due to pneumonia in Semarang after overseas travel was caused by H1N1, as the Covid-19 tests had turned out negative.
Researchers from the United States, particularly from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, has stated in a study in February for Indonesia to be more alert regarding outbreak surveillance and control. For information purposes, before the government banned flights from mainland China on February 5, both Lion Air (charter, to Denpasar and Manado) and Sriwijaya Air (charter, to Denpasar) had direct flights to Wuhan, the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak. In addition, travel from and to neighbouring countries that have already contacted Covid-19, namely Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Philippines were very frequent, making the possibility of imported cases quite high and there was potential for positive cases being undetected.
Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, stated that lockdown policies are the authority of the central government and urged that local governments not to impose lockdowns unless approved by the central government, on March 16, 2020. Instead of actual lockdowns, a large-scale social restriction (PSBB) was implemented; Jakarta was the first one to be approved on April 6, 2020, and up-to-date there were only 23 regencies and cities that were approved. Further, 5 other regencies that applied were rejected by the government.
It took one month plus for the government to establish a strict Covid-19 inhibition measures, a much slower rate compared to other countries that contacted Covid-19 on the same day as Indonesia. For example, Andorra established public establishments to be closed on March 13, just 11 days after its first contact. Jordan imposed lockdown on March 17, Latvia urged strict social-distancing measures on March 29, Morocco on March 20, Portugal declared state of emergency on March 18 and Senegal on March 23, Saudi Arabia enforced curfews on March 24, and Tunisia started nationwide lockdown on March 22. Of all these countries, Latvia, Morocco, and Portugal have already “flattened the curve”. Tunisia reported no more Covid-19 cases on May 10, 2020 and Andorra since May 15, 2020. Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Senegal, however, still have an increasing number of new cases every day, although the latter two had a very low death rate and high recovery rate.
However, local communities across Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 15,000 islands, are imposing community-driven quarantines, as it has been stated in National Geographic. Working-class people were the first ones to organise such measures. Marcus Mietzner, an Indonesia-focused political scientist at Australian National University, told National Geographic, “It’s an indication of the frustration with the central government’s crisis response”.
People or economy?
Slow response - or to a certain extent, refusal - of establishing a nationwide lockdown meaning the country is afraid to shut down all economic activities for a certain period of time. Economy, however, is a topic to always be brought up during Indonesian coronavirus discussions.
For example, Indonesian Coordinating Minister of Economy, Mr Airlangga Hartanto, stated on Feb 25, 2020 that the government budgeted Rp 103 billion (approximately US$ 6.97 million) budget for promotion, Rp 25 billion (approximately US$ 1.69 million) for tourism, and Rp 72 billion (approximately US$ 4.87 million) for influencers.
President Widodo, further announced that on April 1, 2020, the government is ready to inject an additional Rp 405 trillion (approximately US$ 27.39 billion) of the state budget to minimise the effect of coronavirus towards the economy. Among the budget, only 18.52$, or Rp 75 trillion (approximately US$ 5.07 billion) was designated towards healthcare. The rest was concentrated in economical responses, such as aid for the poor (called social safety net) Rp 110 trillion (approximately US$ 7.44 billion, 27.16%), tax incentives Rp 70.1 trillion (approximately US$ 4.74 billion, 17.31%), and economical recovery Rp 150 trillion (approximately US$ 10.15 billion, 37.04%).
Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Mr Erick Thohir formulated “New Normal” lifestyle on May 15, 2020, indicating five phases that the government will undertake to restore activities pre-pandemic. On that day, Indonesia reported 529 new cases per day. First phase of “New Normal” commenced on May 25, 2020, where Indonesia reported 415 new cases per day and up to May 27, 2020, Indonesia still reported an increasing number of cases per day at 686. Before “New Normal” commenced, Indonesia reported a peak high of new cases per day at 973 (May 21, 2020) and 949 (May 23, 2020) and the plan still commenced. To contrast, when Jakarta received approval for its large-scale social restriction (PSBB) on April 6, 2020, Indonesia reported only 247 cases per day. Certainly, when the government is opening up and relaxing restrictions when the pandemic is not slowing down, it is a sign that the economy is more important than the lives of the people.
If that is the government’s response, then what about the people? Certainly, after large-scale social restriction (PSBB) was implemented, Jakarta has almost no traffic, better air quality, less pollution, offices are empty, and so on. However, despite several communities are proactive in imposing their own self-governed lockdowns, going further to more suburban areas, you can still see people flocking the streets with no masks on, no 1-metre distance between individuals, gathering of groups of people to play games and have coffee breaks, and a whole family sharing a ride on a motorbike.
In more central areas of Jakarta such as Jl. Sudirman and Jl. Thamrin, stricter measures are applied. People will get fines and prison sentences if they do not follow the strict Covid-19 regulations that had been set by the government. One can argue that it is the government’s job to ensure that everyone is doing what was supposed to do, as it has been shown in Italy or Spain, where government officials shouting at people breaking curfew. However, it is also up to each individual to be more proactive and fully aware of the impacts of Covid-19 and why one should follow strict measures, rules, and regulations. In most cases, those who break the rules are the ones who are ignorant, and there were plenty.
Yohanes Sulaiman, a political science professor at General Achmad Yani University in Bandung, West Java, told National Geographic, “Many people just ignore [social distancing]”. He further added that the government imposed a fine of Rp 100 million (or approximately US$ 6827.80) if one broke quarantine rules and regulations, but it is impossible to impose that to [certain groups of people], as [those groups] will identify the government is [against certain groups of people]. In general, the government is really going easy on the offenders, Sulaiman concluded.
Furthermore, travel restrictions that had been implanted by the government were disregarded by the people so they can return home during Eid-al-Fitr season. Scientists feared that this seasonal mass exodus, otherwise known as Mudik, will spread the virus even more from Jakarta, the current epicentre of the pandemic, to nearby satellite cities or provinces. West Java police found a hidden car inside a cargo truck with a couple trying to cross islands from Java to Sumatra during Mudik season. In a different scenario, Jakarta police had detained at least four trucks travelling outside Jakarta with up to 20 people hidden inside covered with tarpaulin. According to Mr Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from University of Indonesia, truck smugglers advertised their services using online media or word of mouth. Such evasion by the people who are not strict towards Covid-19 protocol could be costly as medical equipment and facilities outside metropolitan areas are not as well equipped and not as ready to tackle the impacts of the pandemic.
To conclude, Indonesia’s abysmal response towards this pandemic could be attributed to not just slow government response, but also ignorant masses. As Mr Asham Ahmad wrote to The Straits Times, “In Indonesia, the government’s efforts to combat the virus also encountered challenges from some religious communities. These groups continue to hold mass gatherings, believing that they will be protected from the virus and that they only fear God”. As such, relaxation of the current large-scale social distancing measures would be dangerous if strict measures are not introduced and/or start to be applied. Currently, Indonesia’s numbers are greatly concerning and it would not get better if wise responses and decisions, from both the government and the people, were not made. (AC)