It’s Not Okay

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Byron Black

IO – America’s new president, Joseph Biden, gets it. He knows that even with an aggressive rollout plan for vaccines, his country will not reach herd immunity until this coming fall or perhaps even later. In the meantime, he knows there will be the need for more lockdowns, more people will be losing their jobs, not to mention a lot of companies going bankrupt. 

Hence Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which entails extending unemployment benefits, giving financial aid to state and local governments that need help to ensure they can continue to provide public services during the pandemic, procurement of PPE and vaccines and basically do everything possible, and that is needed, for getting Americans the help they require to survive the crisis. 

In other words, Biden’s plan addresses the need for everybody to get on board with the notion that extraordinary times requires extraordinary measures. Republicans are trying to offer a water-downed version, but it is clear Biden won’t buy into it, as he shouldn’t. What America must do now is spend all the money needed to cope with and overcome the challenges in front of it. Nothing less is acceptable. 

Indonesia’s leaders should take note. Like Biden, they should recognize the fact it will be many months, more likely more than a year, before enough people are vaccinated to reach herd immunity. This means there will be more partial lockdowns (something we can’t avoid), and the economy will continue to decline along with unemployment getting worse. This is the ugly truth, and it needs not only to be recognized by our leaders, but they need to say it out loud in public and do something about it. 

So far our leaders have been sugar coating the entire narrative about the pandemic. But you can’t fool people about the severity of the crisis while they are struggling to pay their monthly bills and put food on the table. Our leaders should stop saying the government is coping well with the crisis. The facts on the ground tell a very different story. Too many people are not receiving social assistance monies that were promised to them. Too many have fallen below the poverty line. Simply put, the vast majority of Indonesians are getting desperate. To tell them everything is okay is an insult, if not maddening. The economy is in horrible shape, and to predict a recovery is coming soon is simply irresponsible. 

The first step the Jokowi administration should do is recognize the severity of the problem and stop pretending it will be okay. It’s not okay, and it will be disastrous if the government does not make sure everybody is getting enough money to pay for their necessities. The government is doing the responsible thing by ordering lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. But when lockdowns are enforced, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure people do not suffer.