When is a pandemic suppression order not a lockdown? When it’s in Indonesia.
It’s the same with social distancing. Soekarno-Hatta is Jakarta’s main airport and the nation’s busiest. In the final week of the Islamic fasting month leading to the climax of Idul Fitri last weekend, the crowds squashed around ticket booths were more concerned with catching a domestic flight than the contagious disease.
If there are no Italian-style morbidity stats in Indonesia during the next month, Australia’s freedom riders will be claiming their lifestyles were crimped because Canberra listened to white coats rather than dark suits.
Using the Republic next door to make a point would be a gross error as the facts have fled.
Westerners in the archipelago either adjust to jam karet (rubber time), go home or go batty. Let’s phrase a new coin – statistik karet. It certainly has currency in a bureaucracy where data bounces to suit the political players.
Only Allah knows how many have caught the disease, recovered or died, because Jakarta’s politicians and senior bureaucrats are like those in Albert Camus’ novel The Plague:
‘… men of proved ability in handling problems relating to insurance, the interpretation of ill-drawn contracts, and the like. . . . But as regards plague their competence was practically nil.’
The Indonesian government says it wants accurate figures but that’s untrue. Dr Achmad Yurianto, director-general for disease control at Indonesia’s Ministry of Health let the pathogen out of the fridge when quoted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Army colonel allegedly told the AAAS magazine Science he doesn’t care what experts say about the pandemic because ‘they are not important if their information only creates panic.’ He’s since claimed misquotation but the journal hasn’t retracted.
On Sunday the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre was reporting 21,745 cases in Indonesia with 1,351 fatalities. At 6.2 deaths per thousand that betters the nine per thousand a month ago, yet still the highest in the region.
It suggests improved testing, though at under 900 per million the archipelago’s checking regime ranks among the world’s least effective.
It’s also inaccurate, according to disheartened health workers who Twitter tag: Indonesia? Terserah – suka-suka kalian saja (Indonesia? Whatever – just do what you fancy).
Indonesian epidemiologist Dr Dicky Budiman, currently at Griffith University, said the stigma surrounding Covid-19 is almost “worse than HIV”. He told Pearls and Irritations that “blaming and shaming the victims can be hurtful and dangerous.
“It makes people targets for misplaced anger. This response, coupled with inadequate testing, would likely affect how people sought help. This would force them to only show up at hospitals when it was already too late for treatment.”
Plans for a major lab to close for six days to celebrate the religious festival were only reversed after public protests. Mudik (exodus) from cities to home villages was banned for religious reasons though not if the excuses were economic. Travellers soon learned what to say when challenged.
A makeshift 1,800-bed Covid-19 hospital opened on 23 March at the 2018 Asian Games athletes’ village in Jakarta is reported to be close to capacity.
One area, where the government appears to be acting decisively, is the economy. The US-trained minister is Dr Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a former managing director of the World Bank Group.
Indonesia’s National Economic Recovery Fund has so far been given Rp 641 trillion (AUD 66 billion) to help small businesses, provide security for the poor and subsidise fuel and power costs. Social media has been choked with reports of the cash diminishing as it passes down the chain.
Despite cascading revenues the government still subscribes to the trickle-down theory where drips from the overflowing bowls of the rich nourish the thirsty poor below. Indrawati plans to cut the corporate tax rate by three points from the current 25 per cent while pushing to diversify receipts.
Tourism has been brutally clobbered. Industry chair Ida Bagus A P Adnyana reckons Bali will lose AUD 14 billion this year. To get people moving domestic airlines are being towed off the aprons; President Joko Widodo says he wants Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai open to overseas tourists in July.
If he’s hoping for a snap-back to the million-plus Australians who head to Bali every year he’ll be a lone beckoner in the arrivals lounge: “Taxi Sir, meter, ya?” Back in Aussi Border Force sentinels will demand returnees quarantine – most likely at their expense.
So relax in a Seminyak five star with infinity pool for two weeks – then back to Sydney for an enforced stay in a two-star with a pool table for five times the cost? Doesn’t pass the villa test.
Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist writing from Indonesia.