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Jakarta Post

Leadership in crisis

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, March 16, 2020   /   08:25 am
Leadership in crisis Workers spray disinfectant in the Istiqlal Mosque Praying Area in Jakarta, Friday, March 13, 2020. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Now that the government has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national disaster, immediate measures are imperative to protect the whole population of this country from the contagious disease.

The formation of a national task force to deal with the coronavirus contagion, announced last week, is just one of the decisive steps needed to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. With 117 testing positive as of Sunday, an exponential jump that could put the number of confirmed cases on par with that in severely hit countries, turning fear into alertness and preparedness is the major need.

Clearly the virus knows no boundaries and can infect anyone, old and young, men and women, laypeople and top officials.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi is receiving intensive treatment after testing positive for COVID-19. In other countries, the virus has also infected distinguished persons, celebrities and top athletes.

The scale of the disaster in Indonesia is not yet known, but, learning from other countries, the earlier actions are taken the more likely the virus can be contained. A number of countries have resorted to lockdowns, following in the steps of China, where the outbreak started. Indonesia’s Southeast Asian neighbor the Philippines announced a lockdown for Metro Manila, while Italy has gone as far as opting for national isolation.

Read also: COVID-19: Mr. President, you need professional help

However, other countries refuse to take such drastic measures. South Korea, for example, has not followed nearby China, for fear of the unforeseeable risks. As an open society, South Korea chose not to lock down Daegu, the epicenter of the outbreak, and so far the authorities have apparently controlled the spread of the virus.

Indonesia can take the experiences of other countries as valuable lessons. Indeed, pressures have been mounting for the government to lock down certain parts of the country, especially Jakarta, where the most confirmed cases have been reported. A decision to isolate the capital is perhaps crucial, but even without any official announcement, government institutions, regional governments and the industries have taken decisive measures, such as working from home, which practically put Jakarta in self-isolation.

The Jakarta administration, following the example of Singapore and Vietnam, has suspended school activities, closed the amusement centers it owns and called for social distancing. The Surakarta administration in Central Java has declared an emergency in its territory.

Claiming to lead the fight against the coronavirus, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo may be beginning to show he is in full command. He announced on Sunday that people should work, study and worship at home and ordered: “[…] all governors, regents and mayors to continue to monitor their respective regions and consult with medical experts and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency to determine the emergency level in their regions.”

The fact that regional governments have already taken initiatives to protect their respective peoples is evidence of the central government’s indecisiveness and foot-dragging in a time of crisis. Jokowi can choose whether to isolate the country, or parts of it, as the outside world has urged, but he has to provide convincing reasons and prepare for the risks.