How Jakarta Fights the Pandemic


Syafiq Basri Assegaff *)

AFTER a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, it still seems not easy to get a sheer picture of the outbreak in Indonesia.

But its capital, Jakarta, is showing transparent data including the way it is treating the situation. What Jakarta has been doing in responding to the pandemic seemingly is based on scientific knowledge.

Governor Anies Baswedan has declared that the pandemic is serious and cannot be eradicated instantaneously. That is why he has always refrained from making assumptions or giving false hope that the outbreak will only be temporary.

Read the original article in The New Straits Times March 16, 2021.

It has not been easy for the city of 10.77 million people to handle the highest spike in cases a few weeks before the end of last year. The situation also became worse in the first week of January. Up to March 4, Jakarta recorded 345,816 positive cases with 332,758 (96.2 per cent) recoveries and 5,657 (1.6 per cent) deaths.

Nationally, the country logged 1,361,098 cases, with 1,176,356 (86.4 per cent) recoveries and 36,897 (2.7 per cent) deaths.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Jakarta suggested two policies — early detection and a regional quarantine — but it was soothed by the central government. In the end, the central government provided all local governments with “large-scale social restrictions”, but since February, this has changed into seemingly half-hearted “micro-scale public activity restrictions” across Java and Bali.

When Jakarta was named the epicentre for Covid-19 transmission, its administration immediately asked all employees in the city to work from home, besides shutting down public places as well as school and campus activities.

In April last year, the governor ordered people to use face masks, particularly while using public transport which has also been restricted. He suggested that people wear washable masks due to the scarcity of disposable ones in the market, where prices for a box jumped by 300 to 1,000 per cent.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan: serious steps

He also disciplined the city’s bus drivers and required the Jakarta mass rapid transit operator to only allow passengers with masks to board, a policy which was subsequently adopted by the national rail services. The capital administration also carried out real time reverse-transcription PCR tests — which, according to the deputy governor, is higher than the WHO standard — showing a serious step to obtain accurate and reliable data.

While waiting for the RT-PCR equipment to arrive, city administrators focused on providing more doctors and health workers to serve the people.

Then, there were the two-week Christmas and New Year holidays that led to a surge in Covid-19 cases. The daily active cases, which was 13,082 in Dec 22, soared to 15,376 on Jan 5 and further to 21,679 on Jan 17 before topping 26,029 on Feb 5.

Learning from this incidence, the governor urged Jakartans to stay home during the three-day Chinese New Year holidays, which started on Feb 12. And it was effective: daily active cases, which was 20,662 in Feb 12, dropped to 16,986 on Feb 15, then further to 12,065 on Feb 23, 9,913 on Feb 27, and finally, to 7,179 on March 3.

Counting daily active cases, comprising people under treatment in hospitals plus the ones in home isolation, is an important parameter for preparing medical facilities to cater to the pandemic.

All the above information are available on a Covid-19 site (corona.jakarta.go.id). The Jakarta administration keeps the data open to maintain public trust. Any government does have a limited playing field to assert its authority.

When it comes to private lives, it is up to the people to decide whether to continue practising safe procedures against the virus, or to leave them out on the streets. It is undeniable that transparency and truth will lead to surprises.

But it will be desirable if we handle the crisis with transparency and goodwill. Apparently, the Jakarta administration has been responsive to suggestions by communication experts like Timothy Coombs.

When an organisation, as an information source, is open about an occurring crisis, there will be less reputation damage if other sources deliver the vital information. This is known as “Stealing the thunder strategy“.

Read Coombs’ blog on Stealing Thunder (click here).

The authorities are advised to b e open from the early stage, especially with regards to accuracy and consistency, to win public trust. In contrast, inaccuracy destroys credibility and creates confusion among the public.

We may need to “steal” the thunder.

The Jakarta way in handling the outbreak shows that if we rely on analysis and policies based on information from health and communication scientists — rather than economists and military men only—we may expect better results in handling the pandemic.

*) The writer is a medical doctor who teaches at the LSPR Communication & Business Institute in Jakarta.

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