Indonesia officially recognized the outbreak of the COVID-19 on March 2, 2020 with the announcement of the first two patients by President Joko Widodo. Since then, an increasing number of COVID-19 positive patients have continued to increase in Indonesia. Until March 13, 2020, government official statement said there were 35 people who were positively infected, 3 people were cured and 2 people died. As the number of victims increases, our concerns also increase regarding the way the government responds to COVID-19:
First, when the virus first appeared in China and spread to other regions in neighboring countries, the government embraced a completely wrong premises. Instead of seriously anticipating the threat of this virus, the government through the statement of officials and elites tends to underestimate and imply as if Indonesians are immune to this virus attack. The prediction from Harvard University which states that the virus has arrived in Indonesia, was rejected outright, and not used as a basis for preparing a strong and effective public health policy to deal with this virus. This underestimating and anti-science tendency has more or less made the government stutter when the virus actually came. While the leaders of neighboring countries had prepared their respective countries in advance: expanding public service campaigns, setting up hospitals, setting procedures and protocols in various public facilities, the Indonesian Government seemed to lack initiative and lagged.
Second, this stuttering is apparent from the mistakes made by both central and regional government officials. Weak coordination between the central and regional governments, miscommunication between the Ministry of Health and other agencies appears in how the first case was announced, including violations of patient privacy rights. It seems clear that the government tends to prioritize images rather than patient benefit and wider public safety.
Third, the wrong premise in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak also appears very clear in government policy at the beginning of this virus entry. Instead of devoting attention and funds to anticipating and dealing with viruses, the government instead provides unreasonable incentives for the tourism industry including paying social media buzzers (political troops), rather than pouring funds into health facilities. While other countries tightened the entrance to avoid the spread of the virus, Indonesia instead opened wide with the reason to protect its tourism industry.
Fourth, this premise error and stuttering is further worsen by government policies that deliberately limit information about the threat and development of the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia. The government has repeatedly called for the threat of hoaxes. Unfortunately, fears about the spread of hoaxes are not accompanied by efforts to build reliable and comprehensive public information and communication. This can be seen from the lack of information about the impact of this virus on patients and the locations of transmission. This policy is in sharp contrast with practices in other countries that are both tackling COVID-19. The South Korean government, for example, regularly broadcasts not only cases but also locations where cases were discovered. Clear information, a dissertation with sensitivity to prevent panic and stigma has proven to be very useful in building awareness and mechanisms of public prudence. The closure of information, in fact, will give the wrong signal and direction to the public, reducing alertness which can result in the spread of epidemics. In many historical experiences, asymmetric information is precisely the cause of the severity of the disaster.
We deplore and challenge the way the government has a deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. We judge that the government actions are far from fulfilling the constitutional rights of the people who ordered the state to ‘protect all of Indonesian citizens’. Government public communication can indeed prevent panic, but it cannot provide security and protection against real threats. Therefore, we demand:
First, the government must change and improve the response mechanism for this pandemic by:
A fast government response, accurate and responsible will actually have a positive impact because it will restore public confidence and increase the readiness of citizens.
Second, fixing the management of public communication by limiting and if necessary, banning all forms of public communication from officials who have no relevance and/or expertise in the medical, or public health fields. Including the media, it is also best not to seek sources/opinions from officials or people who do not have expertise in the health sector.
Third, the government must maintain the privacy rights of citizens. Disclosure of cases, information about transmission can be done without having to open the patient’s identity.
Fourth, given the high potential for stigma and discrimination against people who could have COVID-19, the government must ensure efforts to minimize stigma and discrimination.
Fifth, the government must intervene significantly to overcome the scarcity of antiseptic masks and soaps to be available in the community at an affordable price.
Jakarta, March 13, 2020
KontraS, Lokataru, Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI), Community Legal Aid (LBH Masyarakat), The Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI), Association of Planned Family Indonesia (PKBI), Indonesian Customer Body Foundation (YLKI), P2D, Migrant Care, AJAR, Amnesty International Indonesia, Law and Policy Study Center (PSHK)
Anis Hidayah, Migrant Care, 0815 7872 2874
Ricky Gunawan, LBH Masyarakat, 0812 10 677 657