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Jakarta Post

Health comes first

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, September 12, 2020   /   09:10 am
Health comes first Deadly serious: Wearing protective gear, members of a COVID-19 task force in Cilandak district, South Jakarta, carry a fake coffin around local neighborhoods to warn residents to abide by health protocols. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

The growing resistance to Jakarta’s plan to reinstate large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) demonstrates the tendency of many policymakers to avoid harsh measures, even if they are exactly what the country needs to win the prolonged struggled against COVID-19.

Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto, who also heads the National Economic Recovery and COVID-19 Response Team, blamed Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan’s decision to “pull the emergency brake” for causing uncertainty in the market, while leaders of Jakarta’s satellite cities remain undecided about following the capital city’s example and reinstating stricter measures. The support Jakarta needs to bring the virus under control has been elusive.

Just a few days ago, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo acknowledged that public health was the “key to economic recovery” and Budi Gunadi Sadikin, head of the economic recovery task force, said Indonesia should focus on tackling the COVID-19 health crisis rather than on economic recovery.

Clearly the country lacks unity in its fight against COVID-19, but more worryingly, policymakers have failed to learn from the steep rise in infections as a result of relaxed restrictions, something that epidemiologists had forewarned.

Jakarta alone cannot bring down infection rates, given the high mobility of people within Greater Jakarta. Many people who work in the capital live in its neighboring cities, which belong to the provinces of West Java and Banten.

Stricter restrictions akin to PSBB throughout Greater Jakarta will make a difference, and the imposition of PSBB across Java would be ideal given the fact that the densely populated island accounts for the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country.

Indonesian Epidemiologists Association (PAEI) head of professional development Masdalina Pane suggested that PSBB should be imposed throughout Java to truly contain the virus. The spread of the virus, she said, resembled a “ping-pong” game because of the mobility of people, in particular from hot spots like Jakarta to other areas and vice versa. In fact, prior to the imposition of PSBB in April, migration from Jakarta to the rest of Java intensified. The pattern may repeat itself this time around, putting many destination cities and regencies at risk of contagion.

While PSBB was in place, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Jakarta gradually fell below 5 percent, but about three months after the relaxation of restrictions, the rate skyrocketed to 12 percent, which is why Anies announced his decision to reimpose the restrictions.

The bold measures will, of course, have costs, but it is our propensity to seek compromise and refuse to swallow the bitter pill that has caused our COVID-19 efforts to go nowhere. Indonesia has wasted the time it had to effectively contain the virus by avoiding tough policies that people would dislike. Other countries have performed better in this fight because they have dared to sacrifice.

Hopefully Budi Gunadi, who insisted that ending the health crisis was a prerequisite for economic recovery during an online discussion hosted by the Indonesia Fintech Association (Aftech) on Thursday, reflects the views of all the country’s policymakers.