The Jakarta Post
Heaven knows how many more people will be infected, and how many more will lose loved ones, as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his officials mull the best decisions to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. The government must do whatever is necessary to control people’s movements to stop the spread of the virus. Among legal frameworks it has the 2018 Health Quarantine Law.
On March 10, the World Health Organization urged President Jokowi to scale up emergency response mechanisms to curb the virus, including by declaring a national state of emergency, given “undetected or under-detected cases at the early stages of the outbreak”, resulting in significant infections and deaths in some countries. By Thursday afternoon, Indonesia had recorded the highest number of confirmed infections in ASEAN with 309 cases, and 25 deaths.
On Thursday, the President reemphasized social distancing and avoiding crowds, as well as a much larger scope for rapid testing to enable early detection of possible infections.
The President is avoiding mention of a partial or a national lockdown, the latter adopted even by democracies such as France, Italy and Denmark. All measures that are decided upon must indeed be explained clearly, though the government could avoid the controversial “lockdown” term, which refers to community quarantine. The confusion between such habitual freedoms and necessary restrictions was most gravely reflected in two planned events this week — involving respected religious leaders.
Fortunately, the planned gathering of Asian ulema in Gowa, South Sulawesi, was postponed. However, at least 1,300 aspiring participants still arrived as organizers had defied the regent’s and police appeals to at least delay the event. It took the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and South Sulawesi Governor Nurdin Abdullah to stop the event involving foreign participants and others from outside the province, who now must all be returned to their hometowns after necessary quarantine.
On Thursday, the ordination of the Bishop of Ruteng, Siprianus Hormat, in Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara went ahead despite appeals to delay it even from the BNPB. Participants’ temperatures were measured; still, the ceremony involving Indonesia’s bishops, officials, 1,000 priests and proud residents reflected the ineffectiveness of mere appeals without adequate capacity for close monitoring of social distancing and the avoidance of crowds.
Among many recommendations, the Indonesian Young Scientists Forum has called on the government to impose a lockdown on areas considered outbreak hotspots. A partial quarantine would limit individual movement but still allow access for essentials, one member said.
Veterinarian Chairul A. Nidom of Airlangga University recommends quarantines based not on cities but islands. “Indonesia is an archipelagic state, the sea could serve as the best isolator,” he said. Such a measure could work in the world’s most populous island of Java, he said, “assuming that all regional heads […] joined forces and issued joint policies for the island’s entire population”.
Indonesians have much experience with official and informal community organizations, including in organizing all needs in the event of at least a partial quarantine. Just give us the word, President Jokowi!