COVID-19 Op-ed

Prematurely Entering the New Normal in Indonesia: Widening Social, Economic and Political Gaps during COVID-19 and Beyond

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Dominique Virgil
Executive Director of Sandya Institute and Graduate of the Faculty of Law, Universitas Indonesia

Indonesia is currently second Southeast Asian country with the highest recorded cases of COVID-19, only lagging behind Singapore. Beginning from its first case in early March, there have been 22,750 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the number of fatalities of 1,391 as per 25 May 2020. While the number of cases continue to rise by the hundred everyday, the Government is already exploring ways to relax restrictions, according to the national COVID-19 task force chief, Doni Monardo. Furthermore, President Joko Widodo also said that Indonesians ought to “coexist” with COVID-19 and to make peace with the virus, despite echoing the information from , the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the virus would not disappear (The Jakarta Post, 2020). As the impact of the virus is disproportionate, the idea of “new normal” might work differently towards everyone, along with its possible disproportionate implications that might widen the inequality gap.

Unequal access to quality health serviceshad already existed before Covid-19 ravaged the country.The poor public health system is facing its greatest challenge yet due to this pandemic. Worse, there seems to be no systematic attempt from the Government to support the ailing system.  Data the Ministry of Health revealed that Indonesia has the lowest numer of hospital beds per thousand population in the ASEAN region; since it only has 2,813 hospitals in total, of which 1,787 are privately managed. Furthermore, the lack of testing capacity still haunts the fear of growing undetected cases, since the country is still struggling to reach 10,000 tests per day due to scarce equipment and human resources (Healthcare Resource Guide: Indonesia, 2019).

The aforementioned elements are proof that the government’s fulfillment of the right to health has failed. Furthermore, other vital health elements are also  such as “adequate supply of safe and potable water and basic sanitation, adequate housing and safe and hygienic working conditions, an adequate supply of food and proper nutrition” according to Paragraph 15 of the General Comment No. 14 of 2000 on the right to health. There is a big possibility that these crucial elements will be harder to fulfill after the pandemic, due to the growing poverty rate and the possibility of housing and sanitation crisis after the pandemic.

The National Development Agency has forecasted that 3.63 million people will fall into poverty if economic growth drops to 0% as a result of the pandemic, meaning that it will make 10.54% of the population in poverty (The Conversation, 2020). Before the pandemic, over half of Indonesians live in urban areas, of which,1 in 5 urban residents live in slums, according to the data by the World Bank (World Bank, 2019). The growing crisis of inadequate housing and sanitation after COVID-19, especially of those living in urban areas may lead them to greater health risks. In addition, there are only 74 percent of citizens in Indonesia have access to clean drinking water, including in the capital. According to an article written by Sudirman Nasir, “Inequality across the archipelago directly or indirectly shapes people’s health and wellbeing particularly in the pandemic since it influences their ability to comply to preventive measures on a daily basis” (The Jakarta Post, 2020).

The situation is worsened by the ambition of the Government to prioritize the economic recovery and gear the economic activities back way before the situation is conducive enough. Experts from Eijkman-Oxford Clinical Research Unit (EOCRU) lamented the absence of COVID-19 epidemic curve that is in line with epidemiological science standards displayed by the Government, thus making them doubtful with the claim that COVID-19 cases have decreased (Detik.com, 2020). On 7 May, President Joko Widodo instructed that the curve should be flattened this month “by any means necessary”. Without policies supported by tangible data that the cases are decreasing, any decision from the Government to implement the “new normal” will exacerbate the disproportionate impacts on the marginalized.

Aside from people’s affordability to health lifestyle, the growing poverty rate is also attributable to the loss of income experienced by people, especially those who are laid-off, earning low income, or even working as temporary or informal workers. Somehow, the Government’s solution to this is through prioritizing the pre-employment card program, complemented by social safety nets whose distribution is rigged and problematic. Scaling up the skills of people with the uniform sets of trainings while disregarding the differences of their backgrounds and jobs is not only ineffective, but also is not a solution to the root cause. Without ensuring the crucial role of the employers and business actors to provide for jobs that support decent living standards, added by no durable program from the Government to reintegrate the laid-off people into the labour market to gain their income, it will be even harder for these people to afford healthy lifestyle as determinants of the right to health.

The lack of priority to the improvement of people’s accessibility to the public health system and the top-down approach by the Government of Indonesia is exacerbated by the longstanding inequality among the people that is neglected in this pandemic. Instead of merely focusing on getting the business running in a shortest time possible, the Government should ensure that the people have equal access to the health system, especially during the pandemic, and take into account the lack of adequate housing and health lifestyle that is still not affordable to the poorest communities. The focus should also be prioritized to assist the most impacted communities in Indonesia to survive their daily lives, since they will be valuable labour forces to recover country’s economy.

In this pandemic, Government has to take the lead to flatten the curve through scientifically-sound policies and well-enforced regulations instead of depending on the compliance of Indonesians to the measures taken.. Only with this, the “new normal” will not exacerbate the sufferings of vulnerable people impacted by the pandemic, and will create a better and a more equal society.

References:

“Healthcare Resource Guide: Indonesia,” October 2019. Retrieved from https://2016.export.gov/industry/health/healthcareresourceguide/eg_main_108589.asp

Detik.com, “Peneliti EOCRU Sebut Indonesia Belum Punya Kurva Epidemi COVID-19,” 10 May 2020. Retrieved from https://news.detik.com/berita/d-5008756/peneliti-eocru-sebut-indonesia-belum-punya-kurva-epidemi-covid-19

Gugus Tugas Percepatan Penanganan COVID-19 (19 May 2020). Retrieved from https://covid19.go.id/

Tempo.com, “Indonesia Readies 10,000 Beds for Treating COVID-19 Patients,” 28 April 2020. Retrieved from https://en.tempo.co/read/1336310/indonesia-readies-10000-beds-for-treating-covid-19-patients

The Conversation, “Riset: tanpa intervensi, COVID-19 akan membuat setidaknya 3,6 juta orang Indonesia jatuh miskin,” 15 May 2020. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/riset-tanpa-intervensi-covid-19-akan-membuat-setidaknya-3-6-juta-orang-indonesia-jatuh-miskin-138551?utm_source=twitter

The Jakarta Globe, “Indonesia Receives Shipment of $750,000 Medical Supplies from UAE,” 28 April 2020. Retrieved from https://jakartaglobe.id/news/indonesia-receives-shipment-of-750000-medical-supplies-from-uae

The Jakarta Globe, “Lab Technicians Needed as Indonesia Struggles to Get 10,000 Tests Per Day,” 5 May 2020. Retrieved from https://jakartaglobe.id/news/lab-technicians-needed-as-indonesia-struggles-to-get-10000-tests-per-day/

The Jakarta Post, “‘Let’s coexist with COVID-19’: Jokowi calls on residents to adapt to ‘new normal’,” 16 May 2020. Retrieved from https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/05/16/lets-coexist-with-covid-19-jokowi-calls-on-residents-to-adapt-to-new-normal.html

The Jakarta Post, “Indonesia Exploring Options to Ease Social Restrictions,” 19 May 2020. Retrieved from https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/05/18/indonesia-exploring-options-to-ease-social-restrictions.html

The Jakarta Post, “Indonesia’s poor can’t even afford to wash hands,” 11 April 2020. Retrieved from https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2020/04/11/indonesias-poor-cant-even-afford-to-wash-hands.html

The Jakarta Post, “Jokowi calls for flattened COVID-19 curve in May ‘by any means necessary’,” 7 May 2020. Retrieved from https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/05/07/jokowi-calls-for-flattened-covid-19-curve-in-may-by-any-means-necessary.html

World Bank, Augment, “Connect, Target: Realizing Indonesia’s Urban Potential,” 3 October 2019. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/indonesia/publication/augment-connect-target-realizing-indonesias-urban-potential


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