With the much-awaited vaccine for COVID-19 only available in 12 months at the earliest, Indonesia has opted for large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) to survive the pandemic. So far imposed in at least 20 regencies, municipalities and provinces since its inception in Jakarta on April 10, it will be too soon to claim the bold decision a success.
While other regions continue to report new infections and fatalities, Tegal municipality in Central Java boasted zero growth after two weeks of large-scale restrictions, which began on April 23. Deputy Mayor M. Jumaidi said on Thursday that discipline was key to the achievement.
Many would deem Tegal’s claim as too good to be true as the city hosts tens of thousands of workers who make a living in Jakarta, many of whom may have traveled from the epicenter of the country’s outbreak before the government banned this year’s Idul Fitri mudik (exodus) on April 25. In fact, Tegal is encircled by regions known as red zones for their high virus transmission rates.
It is, therefore, relieving that the city government has refused to be complacent and rather than mulling over a relaxation decided to extend the restrictions until May 22. Tegal health agency data shows that 16 people have tested positive for the virus, three of whom have died, with over 160 patients under surveillance.
Tegal is among the few regions that demanded a lockdown in response to the pandemic as soon as the government announced the first confirmed cases in early March. Whether Tegal has harvested what it has sown, it has nevertheless taught us a lesson that a tough response is the only option in dealing with COVID-19; giving even little room to compromise will only put many lives at stake.
The compromise is not surprising as from the beginning, the government refused to focus on efforts to stop the chain of virus transmission, instead viewing the public health issue from a cost-benefit lens.
Following recent claims of a decline in new infections, the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister published a road map of a gradual resumption of businesses and social activities to start on June 1 at the earliest.
To add to the inconsistency, the government has allowed transportation services to resume operations, although very limitedly. Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, who has recovered from COVID-19, said the relaxation was necessary for the economy to survive. The policy contradicts the social distancing order and the mudik ban.
While such an exit strategy displays optimism, Indonesia still lags behind its Asian neighbors in terms of testing coverage to be able to determine the relaxation plan to begin with. Loosening the restrictions will only prove
allegations that the government is not taking the pandemic seriously.
It would be better for the government to incentivize regional administrations to toughen the implementation of PSBB measures, which have yet to be effective in flattening the curve, according to the findings of pollster Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) in a survey covering 18 regions in which the policy is in place.