Success in Fighting the Pandemic: Hopes from Jakarta


Note: Since first time it was published, this article has been updated from time to time, so that readers can have better comprehension in the reading. [Sejak awal diterbitkan, tulisan ini mengalami perbaikan dari waktu ke waktu, agar pembaca mendapatkan informasi terbaru.]

AFTER 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic, it still seems not easy to get a clear picture of the outbreak in Indonesia. We still do not know whether we will be weaker in the near future or get stronger. As we all can see, Indonesia has become one of the epicentres of the global pandemic in recent weeks, with positive COVID-19 cases leaping fivefold in the past five weeks.

Worse still, in the middle of unsuccessful recent lockdown, it is weird (for many) to see the government only seeks to simplify curbs regime with another name change. No wonder that (or because of that) the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday (22 July 2021) urged this country to implement a stricter and wider lockdown to combat surging COVID-19 infections and deaths, just days after President Joko Widodo flagged the easing of restrictions, as reported by Reuters in The Jakarta Post recently.

Lately daily deaths hit record highs over 1,300, among the highest tolls in Asia, or even in the world. In its latest situation report, the WHO said strict implementation of public health and social restrictions were crucial and called for additional “urgent action” to address sharp rises in infections in 13 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces.

Indonesia is currently facing a very high transmission level, and it is indicative of the utmost importance of implementing stringent public health and social measures, especially movement restrictions, throughout the country,” it said.

Under Indonesia’s partial lockdown, social restrictions such as work-from-home and closed malls are limited to the populated Java Island, and Bali, as well as small pockets in other parts of Indonesia. Large sectors of the economy deemed critical or essential are exempt from most, or some, of the lockdown measures.

Recently President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo identified an easing of restrictions from next week, citing official data showing a fall in infections in recent days. “If the trend of cases continues to decline, then on July 26, 2021, the government will gradually lift restrictions,” President Jokowi said.

But we worry about this, since, as epidemiologists said, the decrease has been driven by a drop in testing from already low levels. Indonesia’s daily positivity rate, the proportion of people tested who were infected, has averaged 30 percent over the past week even as cases numbers have fallen. A level above 20 percent meant “very high” transmissibility, the WHO said. Apart from Aceh, all Indonesia’s provinces had a positivity rate above 20 percent.

However, looking from Jakarta’s way in fighting the pandemic, we can put better expectation. Although the number of cases has recently increased, there are hopes that Jakarta is going to win the war soon. This can be seen, at least, through the way its governor, Anies Baswedan, implemented and controlled the policy of harsher ‘lockdown’ in the capital.

Cases in Jakarta show good indication of decrease. After its peak on July 12 (with 14619 cases), daily case in Jakarta went down to 12415 (16 July), 9128 (18 July), and to 6213 on 20 July. Although in volatile time like now cases are up and down from time to time, but at least we have seen a light at the end of the tunnel.

Graph of recent COVID-19 daily case in Jakarta (orange) vs Indonesia (blue) — source: https://corona.jakarta.go.id/en

Last July 6, for instance, Anies Baswedan has made it known that he is leading the charge to enforce a full work from home (WFH) policy following the implementation of the Emergency Enforcement of Restriction on Public Activities (PPKM), as many offices in the capital remain open when they should not.

Governor’s actions.

On his Instagram, Anies posted stories of him performing unannounced inspections at an office building in the center of the capital, where he found that the offices of Ray White, a real estate agency, and an insurance firm (Equity Life) remained open. They were judged as violating the PPKM, which mandates that all workplaces in non-essential sectors must close and implement a full WFH policy.

Your company is not being responsible. This isn’t about profit or loss, this is about people’s lives. People like you are so selfish,” Anies scolded the woman in the video, who is a human resources staff at one of the companies. Media portal Coconuts reported that the governor also reserved some harsh words for an office manager at the other company.

We are burying people every day, Sir. You take responsibility. We are all stumped. Especially as there is a pregnant woman here. Going into labor is difficult for pregnant women during COVID-19. This morning I was told that one pregnant woman died. Why? Because she gave birth while she had COVID-19,” he said.

Watch this Kompas TV sequence, when Anies reprimanded the human resources staff at a Jakarta office:

Anies said employees at both offices were told to go home and that the police will sanction those responsible with possible violations of the Health Quarantine Law and the Criminal Code (KUHP).

The office was not taking the public beating lying down. The insurance company said it should be exempted from the full WFH policy, which gives concessions to companies in the finance and banking sector to enforce a 50 percent WFH policy.

As things stand, both offices have been ordered to close for the entire duration of Emergency PPKM, which is set to last until at least July 20.

There have been concerns that many companies in Jakarta were not fully complying with the WFH policy, with one indicator being the traffic gridlocks on some of the capital’s major roads. Employees in non-essential sectors who were forced to work at the office were encouraged to report their employers through the smart city mobile app JAKI.

In recent action, Anies Baswedan has issued a new gubernatorial decree concerning the PPKM Level 4, which in essence extending the public mobility restrictions policy (previously called Emergency PPKM) from July 21 to 25.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Jakarta has 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.

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.

It has not been easy for the city of almost 11 million people to handle the highest spike in cases a few weeks before the end of last year. Before the spike in June and July 2021, the situation also became worse in the first week of January.

In April 2020, 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.

Since last year he has 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 eight times 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, before the Idul Fitri (“lebaran”) long holiday 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 is 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 practicing safe procedures against the virus, or to leave them out on the streets. It is undeniable that transparency and truth will lead to surprises.

Stealing thunder.

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 organization, 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 thunder strategy“.

The authorities are advised to be 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.

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.

Silakan Beri Komentar

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