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Jakarta Post

Govt needs to be more forthright about COVID-19 data to prevent complacency, experts say

  • Bambang Muryanto

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Thu, April 9, 2020   /   09:44 am
Govt needs to be more forthright about COVID-19 data to prevent complacency, experts say BNPB spokesperson Agus Wibowo (right) speaks at a press conference regarding Indonesia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic next to Health Ministry disease control and prevention director general Achmad Yurianto (left). (Antara/Aditya Pradana Putra)

Experts from Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University (UGM) have called on the government to provide accurate and integrated data on COVID-19 so that the public does not underestimate the gravity of the situation.

"Transparent information on COVID-19 is important to trigger the public’s survival instinct, both individually and collectively,” UGM communication and politics expert Kuskridho Ambardi said on Tuesday.

Dodi expressed concern that the current data provided by the central government could be underplaying the severity of the outbreak, which could also affect the public’s response.

He cited a statement made by National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Agus Wibowo, who said the Health Ministry only supplied limited data to the agency, and that the central government’s data often conflicted with that of regional administrations.

Dodi also mentioned that several survey institutions had recorded that the number of deaths in Jakarta, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, was around 1,000 people more than average in March. However, based on the data from the Health Ministry Jakarta only recorded 144 deaths caused by COVID-19.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo himself had earlier admitted that the government deliberately held back information about COVID-19 so as not to “stir panic”.

"The data has a strategic function as a persuasion tool for the public and a symbolic function to build public trust for the government," Dodi said. The information provided by the government so far, he said, was of questionable accuracy so it failed to give clear information and persuade the public to take preventative measures.

"For example the Health Ministry has published a list of COVID-19 reference hospitals but it didn't mention the capacity of each hospital. One patient in Yogyakarta was refused by several hospitals. He passed away after self-quarantining in his home," he said.

Dodi said the government needed to create one site that could provide all necessary information on COVID-19.

"In Singapore, the Ministry of Health published detailed data of COVID-19 patients, their family members, and their travel history. The public needs such information," he said.

Hermin Indah Wahyuni, an expert in disaster communication at UGM's School Of Social and Political Science said the government took into consideration economic as well as health concerns in communicating about COVID-19.

“There's a risk the government might confuse its primary focus, whether to put public health or the economy first," she said.

Hemin suggested the government provide fast and  transparent information that was easily accessible to rebuild public trust.

“By providing transparent and accurate information the government would reduce misinformation among the public and prevent unwanted responses to [government] policies," she said. (nal)