Pandemic control is worrying – economic recovery is delayed

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Anthony Budiawan Managing Director of Political Economy and Policy Studies (PEPS)

IO – Indonesia is now “in first place” with the highest number of COVID 19 cases in Southeast Asia. Those infected reached 350 thousand in midOctober 2020, a number obtained from the results of daily COVID 19 tests. In fact, the exact number of Indonesians infected remains a mystery. No one knows – any number announced depends on how many COVID 19 tests are performed.

The greater the number of tests performed, the more it becomes clear how many are infected and to how many others they may have spread the virus. The purpose is for more targeted and effective control of the COVID 19 pandemic. The government can quarantine certain areas to cut the chain of viral spread.

One problem is the relatively minimal number of COVID 19 tests already performed in Indonesia. As of midOctober 2020, the number of tests only represents 0.88 percent of the total population, or about 8.8 per 1,000 people. This makes it one of the lowest in the world, and much lower than the Philippines, which is in the second position for the highest number of COVID 19 infections in Southeast Asia. The number of tests in the Philippines is about 4.1 times that of Indonesia. That is about 3.6 percent or 36 people per 1,000 population.

In comparison, the number of COVID 19 tests in Malaysia reached 5.5 percent or 55 people per 1,000 population. Singapore was 17.4 percent or 174 people per 1,000 population. Meanwhile, the number of tests in the United States is enormous, reaching over 35 percent. From the test results, it is known that there are around 8 million infected cases, meaning the US has the most COVID If Indonesia runs the same number of tests as in the US, the number of COVID19 cases could surpass those in the US. This is because the ratio of infected in Indonesia to the number of tests reaches an average of 14 percent. This means that out of 1,000 people who were tested for COVID19, 140 were found to be infected. Much higher than that of the US, where “only” 6.5 percent came out positive.

If Indonesia runs tests like those in the US, around 35 percent of the population, or let’s say 100 million tests, the number of those infected with COVID19 in Indonesia could reach 14 million people – a figure that could jump again if Indonesia did not take efforts to control the spread of the virus more seriously. One way is through quarantine or PSBB (LargeScale Social Restrictions).

The last 7 months’ data taken from ourworldindata.org can be a good lesson. Data confirms that PSBB can reduce the number of those infected by the virus spreading. One week before the Jakarta PSBB (followed by other regions) came into effect in April 2020, the ratio of infections to the number of tests was over 24 percent. There were 24 people with the virus out of every 100 people tested.

The first week after the PSBB took effect, the ratio of infections fell to 12 percent. Then it fell again to below 10.7 percent in May 2020. When the relaxation of the PSBB towards the new normal in early June 2020 was implemented, the number of infected rose again above 11 percent, and reached 13 percent in July 2020; 15.2 percent in August 2020; 15.9 percent by September 2020. Even in the daily tests on September 10 and 11, 2020, the number of infections increased sharply, to more than 23 percent.

The Jakarta PSBB Volume II, which took effect on September 14, 2020, was unable to significantly reduce the ratio of infections. It only becomes about 14 percent. The first PSBB only applies in Jakarta. And the second one too.

Based on the above data, if the government does not take the spread of the virus seriously, and if the government applies relaxation as if there was no pandemic, then the number of the infected will rise sharply. The ratio of infected can increase to 25 percent or more, as happened in early September before the implementation of PSBB volume II. This condition will be exacerbated by limited health services. Hospitals will not be able to accommodate infected patients.

Several studies have shown that poor pandemic control will be bad for the economy. If the control of the spread of the virus is out of control, the economy will contract more sharply, and for a longer period.

Indonesia appears to be heading in that direction. The pandemic is out of control: the number of infected cases will rise sharply. Economic recovery will take a long time.