Keeping both the people and the economy alive
IO – The streets are empty, nobody is out to buy. They are all afraid of the Coronavirus, said Sri (not her real name), who sells Kerak telor, (Egg crust, a traditional Betawi spicy omelette dish which is considered a snack) on the sidewalk right in front of Bank BNI Jakarta Kota, not too far from the main entrance of the Jakarta Kota Train Station.
Meanwhile, at the sidewalk of Sarinah Shopping Center along Jl.Jenderal Sudirman, an Ojek driver (taxi-motorbike) complains It’s been four hours in the waiting, and no passenger yet. “Usually even during Car Free Day like on Sunday, I get at least four passengers,” he said.
These two realities are examples of the dilemma faced by central and local government to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. Should we save people’s lives or prioritize economic growth?
The meeting between Indonesian Red Cross Chairman Jusuf Kalla (JK) and the Central Board of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin), at Menara Kadin, Jakarta on Tuesday afternoon, March 17, 2020, was a very different ambience from dozens of previous meetings held before. There was no laughter and humor spoken typically in a session with JK.
Dozens present at the meeting room, such as Kadin’s General Chairman, Rosan Roeslani, and Lippo Group owner James Tjahaya Ryadi, to mention few, appeared tense. The meeting was as though they were about to open Pandora’s box.
According to JK, there has been an increase in the numbers infected by the Coronavirus. Up to 40 people per day. The number is the result of examining ten thousand people. What if 20 thousand people were to be examined. Then we may find even more and more infected. How would it be if in a month time? What JK had to say made sense.
The data shown from the Ministry of Health as of March 17, 2020, 172 people in at least eight provinces were infected with Covid-19, even though ten days earlier only four people were reported ill with the virus.
It is widely suspected, that those infected are actually far more than can be detected. They roam about without realizing the harm, that they can transmit the virus to those around them, through handshakes and other means.
The suspicions can be understood because the symptoms of an infection are similar to that of the common cold. Additionally, detecting equipment is not suitable enough and its accuracy is questionable. Ironically, to find out the results of swab tests and mucus sampling in the respiratory tract takes at least three days. Meanwhile, the person waiting for the test results is able to wonder around during the wait.
For those who have been declared infected with Corona are not given proper treatment. Referral hospitals and public hospitals can no longer accommodate, due to shortages in the number of beds, ventilators, doctors, nurses, and others.
Imagine the impact of Covid-19 that has gone pandemic: The export-import process is slowing down, layoffs are looming, purchasing power is declining, productivity is in the decline, the banking and financial sectors are severely disrupted.
JK, nicknamed by “a man of action”, firmly stated that we don’t have much time, before more are infected. It could be us in this room, our brothers, our sisters, our children or grand-children. We must act. Earlier on Tuesday morning, March 17, 2020, JK held a meeting with the Ambassadors of China and Japan, and he got a commitment that the two countries would help.
In the afternoon, a group of entrepreneurs are committed to donating two million masks to the Indonesian Red Cross. Not to be left out, JK said he will designate 1.5 million Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) volunteers in Java and Bali to act.
However, the movement hit a stumbling block. An executive of a private hospital said that his and as well as other hospitals would participate: “but please pay off the BPJS payment, which has already been three to five months overdue”.
According to data, national government debt to private and government hospitals have reached IDR 10 trillion. The average debt to each hospital ranges from IDR 25 billion to IDR 50 billion, while debts to Muhammadiyah Hospitals amounted to IDR 1.2 trillion.
The policy of avoiding contact between humans (social distancing) is to be implemented from March 15 – March 30, 2020 to break the chain of the spread in order to contain the virus. To implement it, schools are closed, the use of public transport is reduced, vacation spots are closed, and state employees are ordered to work from home.
The same goes for employees in the private sector. Community members are advised not to be in crowds or join any gatherings. The distance between people is set to at least one meter. People must frequently wash hands with disinfectants. Shaking hands by bumping the fists is enough, and wearing masks is a must.
Social distancing relatively has an effect towards containing the virus, but the economic impact is also noteworthy. Sri, which is a reflection of hundreds of thousands and even millions of small vendors in many provinces, complained of losing customers.
What will happen if the policy of limiting human contact lasts two weeks or more? What if the government finally locks down a province, many provinces or at the end the entire country?
Brooking Institutions in one of its publications states that social distancing will have an impact on reducing economic activity because people must stay at home and avoid crowds. This phenomenon affects the Lower-middle class throughout the United States, so they must obtain financial support so that purchasing power is maintained.
In Indonesia, the chances of a recession is high. According to the Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani, the deficit of state income and expenditure could widen in the range of 2.2 to 2.5%, up from the previous estimate of 1.79% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Finance Minister also indicated there will be an impact on the banking and finance sector. Both sectors are the “blood supply” of the economy to a very large extent.
The Corona issue caused share trading in the Indonesia Stock Exchange to be repeatedly halted due to the Composite Stock Price Index (CSPI) dropped by five percent. If measured from January 2020 to March 17, 2020, the CSPI has fallen from around 6.405 to 4.456. The capitalization value of the CSPI has decreased by IDR 2,108.36 trillion. Foreign investors net sales of nearly IDR 900 billion and are expected to increase. The Rupiah passes IDR 16,000 per US$ 1 or its weakest since 2018.
Antonius Joenoes Supit, the Deputy Chair of Kadin in charge of Human Resources and Industrial Relations, in an exclusive conversation last Monday, said the government had no choice but to save those who are suspected and those who are confirmed to be infected.
The problem now is, are there facilities to accommodate the patients available or not? He claimed to be extremely saddened, that one of his executives is infected with the virus. He needs a ventilator, but the hospital does not have one. He now uses a oxygenated breathing apparatus. Referral hospitals cannot accommodate him because of their limited capacity. His wife can only cry.
Former Indonesian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (2013-2017) Sugeng Rahardjo stated that Jusuf Kalla’s meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia is the right step, given China’s experience, expertise, and equipment needed to reduce the Corona outbreak.
Next, what the government needs to do is to congratulate China on its success in overcoming the Coronavirus outbreak. Then build direct communications between government officials. When the situation is under control, enforce a policy to re-open communications between businessmen of the two countries, investors and people to people.
In an exemplary manner, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has spoken directly to the people of his nation twice in six weeks, in a live broadcast delivered directly from the Prime Minister’s Office, outlining details for the Singaporeans specifics of the government’s strategy and approach, facing the great threat of a spreading Coronavirus. He invited all components of the nation to work together for the sake of mutual safety and prosperity.
The first speech was delivered in English, while the second was in Malay. The tone was clear and the content neatly organized. His face changed. Sometimes he smiled, or casts a serious look. His arms were repeatedly moving. It is clear that Lee wanted to strengthen the meaning of every sentence he uttered.
In his second speech, Lee seemed intent to stress the consistency of his speech’s meaning with the delivery of the previous one. He stated, “Brothers and sisters, five weeks have passed since I talked about Covid-19 with you. We both hope that the epidemic will end soon…”
While in his first delivery, Lee emphasized his government’s plans for dealing with Covid-19, and expressed his hope that the people will participate until a joint effort is formed effectively and systematically, in his second speech, he moved the hearts of his listeners by saying that in Italy, the plague of Covid-19 moved very quickly. The number of victims is increasing.
Lee is optimistic that Singapore can overcome the impact of this outbreak because it has experienced previous outbreaks such as MARS and SARS. However, he implicitly warned the world and regional response was not as good as that of Singapore. For this reason, he requested that people always be vigilant and follow government instructions. Caring about their own health, as well as that of the community.
President Joko Widodo stated some time ago that his government has been very concerned with the development of the Covid-19 outbreak in China. He has held intensive discussions with various agencies, even including the State Intelligence Agency (BIN). BIN’s participation shows that the government sees this outbreak not only in terms of health but also the possibility of other causes.
Although the President did not disclose, the explosion of the virus outbreak took place amid tense US-China trade relations. China is experiencing a winter that allows the virus to breed easily. The outbreak occurred in December, two months before the Chinese New Year which has economic and spiritual significance.
The queston is – why does the government not communicate its views to approximately 260 million people who live on more than 17,500 islands? Of course, the material is not about sensitive issues, but about the need to prepare if the plague spreads across the country. A kind of early warning.
That silence aroused a reaction from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other countries. They do not believe Indonesia is free from the plague. They appealed to the government to do something. It turns out that doubt has been proven!
Government spokesman Achmad Yuniarto at the office of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), Thursday, March 19, 2020, afternoon said that there were 309 positive cases of Corona, with 25 dead and eleven recovered. They are spread across eight provinces.
All the data shows that the mortality rate in Indonesia is among the highest in the world. The increase in cases has reached 40% per day. In fact, Indonesian Red Cross Chairman Muhammad Jusuf Kalla estimates that the number of positives is greater if the number examined is broader.
External pressure has prompted the government to appoint Chief of BNPB, Lieutenant General Doni Monardo, as the head of a Task Force to Accelerate the Corona Virus Handling on March 13. The urge also encouraged the government to be transparent. Transparency as such which has now revealed the facts about limited hospital capacity for those infected with the virus.
Indonesia also does not have adequate detection equipment and consequently does not have the capacity to quickly ascertain examination status of suspects, lacking supply of masks and so on. It also revealed that there are weaknesses in coordination and the enforcement of regulations.
How is it that during a time where people who are concerned with the Corona virus outbreak, 49 foreign workers from China could enter the country so easily?
This group of workers were previously quarantined in Thailand, but they could enter Jakarta freely. As written by M. Din Syamsuddin, who made a statement that the government is more concerned with investment than the safety of its people, they even resorted to lying to defend foreign businessmen.
Meanwhile in Niranuang Village, Bontomarannu Subdistrict, Gowa Regency, South Sulawesi, there is the World Islam Scholar Meetings (Ijtima Ulama) for Asian Zone event, in which about 8,283 people from various regions in Indonesia and 411 people from at least nine countries are to participate. It is understood that this meeting has been prepared for a long time, but many have questioned on how the mechanism for health surveillance will be implemented. Saudi Arabia has stopped the Umrah to prevent the spread of the plague.
Covid-19 was initially considered not much different than the MARS and SARS viruses. This assessment affected the responses of policy makers in various countries. They were just stunned because it turned out that the virus was then classified as new, contagious, more vicious and difficult to detect. The majority of victims are generally elderly and already have chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart, lung and so on, but that does not mean that those outside that category are more immune to the virus, because there is evidence that those who were previously in good health were also infected by the virus.
Overcoming this Corona virus outbreak requires collaboration with various parties. BNPB has extended the emergency period until May 29, 2020. PMI has pioneered cooperation with Kadin (Trade and Industry Federations) Indonesia, the Japanese and Chinese governments. Minister for State Owned Enterprises, Erick Tohir, has ordered 500 thousand masks, the Indonesian Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation donated a thousand quarantine suits. It is estimated that from day to day there will be more and more help coming.
This is in line with the statement of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who reminded his people that the eradication of Covid-19 requires significant funds, the importance of togetherness, and also psychological readiness.
The government and the people of Indonesia are actually working against time to overcome the Corona outbreak as soon as possible, realizing a flattening curve and ending it. In this context, it is worth remembering the saying that time is a sword. If we are not good at using it, it will cut us.
It’s never too late, but it was only on March the 2nd that the community was moved to react accordingly because there were two people suspected of being infected with the Corona virus. It’s “business as usual”. (Sjarifuddin Hamid)
Sjarifudin is a senior journalist. He holds a BA from the Universitas Indonesia, graduating from the department of Social and Political Science. His writing has been widely featured in, Harian Bisnis Indonesia, Harian Sinar Harapan and was last Chief Editor for Majalah Suara. He writes for the Independent Observer.