[Analytics] Indonesia: To lock or not to lock

A business district in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan 5, 2020. Indonesia's economy has been growing at 5.5 per cent a year or less since 2014. PHOTO: EPA-EFE. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.


Following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s announcement on March 2 of Indonesia’s first two positive cases of the infectious respiratory disease known as COVID-19, the country was added to the list of nations affected by the pandemic, which was originally identified in Wuhan, China. The Tourism Ministry has calculated that Indonesia has lost US$2.8 billion of economic potential merely from the loss of Chinese tourists. The Office of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment also announced another round of losses worth about $500 million from the delays in Chinese investment in the country. Muhammad Habib Abiyan Dzakwan specially for The Jakarta Post.

The economic burden is particularly painful because Indonesia recently took measures to neutralize the impacts of the United States-China trade war last year.

Beyond the financial damage, Indonesia should be much more concerned about safeguarding its citizens from the virus exposure. According to the official government count, there were 309 confirmed cases with 38 deaths as of Friday (Mar 20).

There is no single recipe for an effective response to the virus. Some choose radical intervention through the strict limitation of people’s movement, be it locking down a city, locking down travel between provinces, full closure of the whole nation or simply tightening control over its entry points.

With regard to the first model, the best case presented was China’s quarantine of Hubei province, which began on Jan. 23 after the World Health Organization field visit to Wuhan.

China suspended public transportation leaving the province; private vehicles were banned from the streets; people were required to wear masks; general door-to-door health checks were performed, and large-scale treatments in temporary quarantine camps were put in place, among other measures.

As a result, new infections surrounding the epicenter dropped below 10 cases daily, according to China’s count.

The Philippines and Italy followed suit. But their success rates cannot be measured anytime soon as the outbreaks in the countries are still ongoing. It is likely that the success of the lockdowns will depend on the nations’ geographical character, political systems, community behavior and economic resilience.

On the other end of the spectrum, Singapore combated the COVID-19 crisis by using moderate intervention through surveillance and containment without closing its borders. Singapore has implemented policies to discourage the movement of its citizens and others within the country.

The policies include the online submission of health clearance prior to arrival, the requirement to attach proof of an appropriate location for a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine, a limit of 250 people at gatherings, the suggestion of improving ventilation in buildings, the use of contact tracing and the requirement that owners and tenants in public venues limit the number of visitors and enhance their business continuity plans.

The set of “moderate” policies reflects the lessons the country learned from the injurious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. Having the right policies and experiences at their disposal, Singapore has so far experienced no deaths from COVID-19.

No lockdown is needed for Indonesia at the moment. The Singapore model is one good example of no-lockdown measure, even though directly copying its model will not be possible.

Another reason for avoiding a lockdown is the economic fallout. The lockdown would hamper the Rp 33.2 trillion of incentives from generating optimum results, worsening the damage experienced by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and workers in the informal sector.

The other reasons against an immediate lockdown are found from a management perspective. At the moment, Indonesia may not reach a tipping point, which is marked by massive deaths, a dramatic increase in new positive cases and provinces affected in a short amount of time or a sharp increase in local transmissions.

Indonesia has not yet mobilized all of its national resources to address the pandemic. The private sector, for example, seems to have been left without guidance about what kind of assistance they can provide.

Our greatest concern should be whether people are fully aware of the current emergency situation and whether our emergency health system has been properly prepared.

A lockdown will likely fail if policies at the regional level are incoherent with those of the national government, considering the fact that most regional governments have not focused on facing wide-ranging disasters like the one we currently face.

But, in any case, where a lockdown becomes necessary or when one of the tipping points is achieved, Indonesia should have measures ready to mitigate collateral damage, including mass hysteria, mental distress and further economic costs.

To win the battle against COVID-19, Indonesia needs innovative policies beyond the sectorial ego of bureaucracies.

The potential worst-case scenarios that should be mitigated are if the outbreak coincides with natural disasters (e.g. floods, earthquakes) or an existing disease (e.g. dengue), if the outbreak infects many high-ranking officials or if the outbreak remains unabated during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan. It is imperative that the National Task Force for COVID-19 forms contingency plans rapidly.

The robustness of medical responses in a pandemic can be indicated by the availability of necessary equipment (e.g. testing kits, masks, ventilators, thermometers), the number of well-informed and insured medical officers, the accessibility of the treatment (hospitals or qualified clinics), and the use of artificial intelligence in detecting or curing the disease.

Cases such as the use of raincoats by doctors who take care of potential COVID-19 patients in Garut, West Java, and the shortage of masks in some hospitals must be addressed quickly.

Diplomatic interaction should be intensified with countries who succeed in managing the outbreak. This includes China, Singapore and South Korea, bearing in mind that they are veterans of SARS 2003 and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) 2012.

Practical recommendations include requesting all ambassadors identify potential partners in their respective host countries to support our domestic needs against COVID-19, helping Indonesian scientists and laboratories join the international network in pursuit of vaccines, inviting international philanthropists to participate in national efforts against the disease and optimizing the role of the AHA Center in mobilizing international assistance for Indonesia and ASEAN countries.

National resources from nongovernment sectors must also be mobilized. As of now, their role has been limited due to a lack of information regarding how to assist.

A public-private partnership against COVID-19 could be forged, including foreign enterprises if necessary.

Researcher at CSIS Disaster Management Research Unit

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