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The Never-Ending Covid-19 Crisis and its Social Consequences

NEWS | 22 October 2020
For over 6 months, Indonesia’s Covid-19 crisis has been up and down along a fluctuating curve reacting to the uncertainty induced by contradictory and sometimes conflicting measures, causing as a consequence more severe struggles among the community at large which in turn have the potential to trigger social disruption and public chaos. 
Photo by Refhad on Unsplash/NOW!JAKARTA

After reimposing large-scale social restrictions (PSBB Jilid 2) in mid-September, Indonesia hasn’t really seen significant progress in “flattening the curve” of rising Covid-19 cases since August. Despite extending the strict social restrictions after 4 weeks of partial lockdown, the city decided to loosen the protocols on 12 October with another transitional period - even though the cases remain high.

In the last quarter of 2020, the capital city has also faced another challenge with the massive protests against the ratification of the “Omnibus Law” and the protests are set to continue. Civil disobedience is unavoidable with crowds flocking the cities demanding the President and the House of Representative (DPR) revoke the law.  Various members of Indonesia’s many communities across different backgrounds have been criticising the regulations claiming that the law has the potential to discriminate against some workers’ rights but also to threaten the environment, through easing some environmental requirements.

Unfortunately, the protest gives rise to violations of health protocols in many cities where the protests have been organised including Jakarta as the main destination for protesters to declare their aspiration to decline the bill proposed by the government last year but passed, some say, without sufficient chance for the communities to comment, on 5th October.

As public tension heightens, protesters are expected to go on the streets to continue protesting against the ratification of the Omnibus Law which is scheduled to become official regulation in the next 30 days. Meanwhile, during the ongoing protests, Indonesia’s Covid-19 taskforce has found 145 people were Covid-19 positive.

Even though protesters, including members of the labor alliance and activists, are also helped by the first responders to provide first aid and there was active campaigning to enforce the health protocols, Covid is an invisible threat that can transmit from anyone with a potential of superspreader transmission during the crowded protests.

By the end of September, the Covid-19 curve was not successfully flattened since daily confirmed cases reported remained high with an average of 3,500-45,000 new cases per day. The number hasn’t changed or decreased since Indonesia’s Covid-19 daily cases rocketed in the last few days of August. On 24 September, Indonesia’s death toll of Covid-19 surpassed 10,000 giving the country the highest fatality rate among other countries in Southeast Asia.

According to the report on 21 October, 297,509 Covid-19 patients have recovered from the virus, and 12,857 patients who underwent intensive care have died from a total of 373,109 cases. Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta recorded the most cases with a total of 97,217 cases with East Java and Central Java following. On the other hand, Jakarta’s Covid-19 fatality is the second largest with 2,089 casualties after East Java which reported 3,606 people who didn’t survive the contagious disease.

With a total of 62,743 active cases, the Indonesian Medical Association stated that homegrown health personnel and experts have been learning about the virus for about 6 months during the crisis which allows medical workers including doctors and nurses to discover the most effective medical treatment. This is also shown by the progress among members of health institutions around the world in handling the Covid-19 patients who need intensive care in the hospital, Reuters reported.

Civil Disobedience in the Midst of Crisis

In the age of pandemic, social uprisings have also become newsmakers in 2020 and the protest against Omnibus law in Indonesia is high among other social movements highlighted in 2020. The ongoing march against racism in the United States, the grassroots movement for democracy in Thailand as well as the recent news about civil disobedience against the totalitarian government in Nigeria are something that global citizens are increasingly aware of. Police brutality has also been a recurring discussion especially to reform and adjust the way governments respond when handling protests that include violations of human rights.

Experts analyses that the current situation of rising civil obedience in Indonesia is linked to increased anxiety as people have forced to lock themselves at home for longer periods of time, creating stress and uncertainty. This is exacerbated by the struggles experienced by many due to a plunging economy which has made a large number of people lose their jobs. A recent report released on The Conversation shows that 2,3 million of Indonesian people are now unemployed as businesses cut a part of their workers in order to survive the pandemic.

As communities are becoming awakened to some rigged systems and clearly identified social problems they feel it's their civic duty to keep an eye on the government, epidemiologists and medical experts are warning thems to obey the health protocol for public safety and avoid another surge of transmissions that could bring on an even greater struggle to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.

The spokesperson for Indonesia Covid-19 Task Force Wiku Adisasmito reminds the public to protect themselves while voicing their rights as citizens during demonstrations against Omnibus Law. “It’s for the sake of public safety and we need to protect each other and be disciplined. We must be aware of this disease while people do their civic duty for a democracy. Keep wearing masks and maintaining social distancing,” Adisasmito said at a virtual conference.

The Indonesian Medical Association also speaks up in the correspondence on the current social movements, warning the public to enforce health protocols and asking the government to facilitate decent protection during the protests by having a team of task force members who stands by to help if any emergency occurs at the protests.

“We have seen that some people got infected by the virus after the Covid-19 task force tested people in the first week of protests. We are worried if social movements like this will cause the emergence of new clusters of transmission that require us to have a longer recovery. We must stay cautious,” said Subaidi Djoerban, a Chief of Covid-19 Satgas from PB Indonesian Medical Association (IDI).

Thomas A. Russo,  a specialist doctor from Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Science, University at Buffalo, New York and George Benjamin, Executive Director of American Public Health Association urges people to utilise social media as a platform to drive democratic movements instead of going on the streets taking a risk in contracting the disease.