Dahlan Iskan former Minister of State-Owned Enterprises

IO – To lock down, or not to lock down? China did it – and succeeded. The Corona virus, COVID-19, was tamed. Finally.

South Korea did not lock down. Yet it also succeeded: The viral plague there is now controlled, even though not as successfully as it was in China.

Italy followed in China’s footsteps: Northern Italy is locked down. We don’t know whether it will be successful or not, it just started.

Iran has not decided which part to take: Ayatollah Khamenei just issued the command to the military to deal with the plague last Friday (13/03/2020). 

The United States is still divided in a quarrel between its Federal Government and the New York State government. President Donald Trump at first tended to underestimate the danger of the epidemic. They were so sanguine about it that the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo threatened to take measures by himself without involving the Federal Government. Unfortunately, his fears came true and the plague has spread quite extensively around the country.

Some of Trump’s followers blamed China, while others blamed the Democratic Party. “When this plague started to spread in China, our attention was focused on how to face Democrats’ impeachment efforts,” they complained. However, Trump finally announced a national emergency and stated that he is providing a USD 50 billion stimulus in the form of delayed income tax. Share prices on the capital market, which had dropped to their lowest since 1986, went back up 7% following the announce­ment.

I contacted my friend John Mohn in the tiny town of Hays, deep within Kansas. “Life goes on normally here,” he told me two days ago. 

John sent an update the next day: right after Trump’s emergency announcement made in the White House’s Oval Office. “Dillons – our local supermarket – is now out of milk, toilet rolls, and bread,” he said. “Even in Lawrence, a bigger town next to ours with better educational level, they are running out of the same necessities.”

In fact, COVID-19 virus sufferers in America number fewer than in Italy, Iran, or South Korea: 2,269 positive infections, 48 deaths, and 31 healed. Even these numbers are mostly found in three States: Washington, California, and New York. However, the number of new sufferers continues to increase. The last figure on Thursday (12/03/2020) stated that there are 277 new sufferers a day. As the New York Governor said, there are actually more new sufferers, but they are undetected. This is clearly due to low detection ability of America. Until the 12th, only a total of 5,000 citizens had been tested. On the contrary, South Korea was able to test 12,000 citizens a day, with a total number tested there at 230,000 on Thursday. Compare their sizes, and look again at the mere 5,000 citizens tested in a country as big as the US.

The ability to perform as many tests as possible is the key to get accurate data on COVID-19 sufferers. Accurate data was the key to the success of plague control in South Korea, a nation which managed to control Covid-19 even without a lockdown. This is obviously related to sufficient test kits being available, and sufficient money to perform the tests. Both South Korea and China test their citizens for the COVID-19 virus for free. That is also what America will be doing later.

This ability to perform large-scale testing in South Korea is due to the profuse number of molecular biotechnology businesses in the country. They are sensitive to national needs: On 16 January 2020, even before COVID-19 entered South Korea, they decided to produce test kits for the Wuhan virus. By 5 February, the first batch of test kits had been produced. It took them only 20 days to design, procure materials, and prepare manufacturing equipment. Now they produce these kits 24/7 and they are flooded with orders from all over the world. In an odd way, this generosity became profitable for them.

The Government itself prepared permit procedures that would quickly determine the correctness and safety of the kits. “Such permits are generally issued within 1.5 years,” said Chun Jong-yoon, CEO of molecular biotechnology company Seegene, which produce the test kits and other products. “But permits were issued within a week due to the emergency status.”

Will Indonesia’s Government ever be able to do the same?