Jakarta. Defying the central government's stance that a nationwide lockdown was not an option for Indonesia, six regions declared a local quarantine on Monday – Tegal, Tasikmalaya, Papua, Makassar, Ciamis and Jakarta.
Muhammad Habib Abiyan Dzakwan, a disaster management specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said the government is on the right track in taking measures to suppress mobility but not locking down the country.
"We shouldn't consider the lockdown option just from the epidemiological point of view. The government must also weigh up its economic, sociocultural, political and security aspects," Habib told Jakarta Globe.
"I think there are still other measures [that can be taken] to avoid a lockdown. According to the World Health Organization, a lockdown will not necessarily suppress the spread of coronavirus. The government should adopt policies that achieve the purpose of a lockdown – including minimizing people's mobility by increasing toll fees and public transportation costs," he said.
He said the government has been following the steps recommended by the 2018 Law on Health Quarantine.
"If a lockdown happens, the government will have to provide everyone with food and basic supplies. We've got to ask the question, can the government handle that?" Habib said.
"We're now following the third phase of [a health quarantine as described by] the law, which is mass-scale social distancing, and I think that's the right move to take," he said.
Local quarantine is another way of curbing the spread of Covid-19, but not all regions are ready to enforce it, according to Habib.
"A nationwide lockdown is not likely to succeed in Indonesia because the chain of command between the central government and the regional government is not in sync," he said.
Habib pointed out the 2018 Law on Health Quarantine places the control of the lockdown to the central government, but according to the Health Law and the Disaster Mitigation Law, the chain of command during a lockdown should go from the regional government to the central government.
"It's unclear who should initiate the quarantine because the laws overlap. This adds to confusion among people on what to do and not to do during this pandemic. The government doesn't keep them informed," Habib said.
"If the chain of command is still unclear and the health system is not ready for a lockdown, then the people will not be ready either," he said.
According to Habib, a lockdown would spark more public panic, especially since people are spending more time online and have become more susceptible to hoaxes.
Casual Attitude Leads to Late Response
The researcher said the government has been rather late in responding to the pandemic.
"At first, the government was overoptimistic, saying even that Indonesians would be immune to the virus, and rejecting the idea that it will ever enter the country. They were definitely downplaying the threat of the virus, though not to the extent they were ignoring it altogether. The Health Ministry did make some effort," Habib said.
The Health Minister, Terawan Agus Putranto, has been criticized for making comments that made light of the situation, including claiming that Covid-19 was "just like common flu."
On Jan. 27, he also told Indonesians: "Do not panic, enjoy life and eat well."
On Feb. 11, he rejected a suggestion from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health that the virus might have arrived in the country, saying, "Ask Harvard to come here, we've got nothing to hide."
"At least now the government is trying to provide more rapid testing kits, PPEs [personal protective equipment] and other facilities. Better late than never," Habib said.
According to the researcher, the limited number of Covid-19 hospitals in Indonesia is also a big problem.
"People are flocking to the small number of referral hospitals available at the slightest sign of [Covid-19] symptoms. Staff are overwhelmed, which affects their performance. I think the system could be better," Habib said.
He suggested categorizing the hospitals according to the severity of the patients' complaints – from hospitals for people with milder symptoms to hospitals for suspect Covid-19 patients and patients already in critical condition.
"There should also be a way to inform people if a hospital is already full," Habib said.
Lack of Transparency
Habib also criticized the Health Ministry for the lack of transparency in their handling of the contagion.
"We still don't know if our friends have the virus or not, where and how people got infected, what were they doing when they did. We might have had contact with people who had been infected, for all we know," he said.
Achmad Yurianto, the spokesman for the government's Covid-19 Task Force, gives a daily update on the number of confirmed cases and the death toll from Covid-19 in Indonesia, but never revealed the movement of the patients.
The lack of transparency has already hurt the government's standing.
Around 88 percent Indonesians now say the government's response against the pandemic has been "insufficient," according to a global study called "Measuring Worldwide Covid-19 Attitudes and Beliefs," by a group of researchers from the United Kingdom, published last week.
The figure was the highest among 51 countries included in the study. In comparison, only 29 percent of people in Italy – where Covid-19 has killed more than 11,000 people, more than anywhere else in the world – thought their government did not do enough against the pandemic.
The study, which gathered more than 200 respondents from Indonesia between March 20 and March 30, also noted that 64 percent of Indonesians perceived the government had been untruthful about their Covid-19 mitigation efforts.