Editorial board (The Jakarta Post)
Mon, August 2, 2021
When the World Bank downgraded Indonesia to the lower-middle-income group of countries early last month we could not do much about it as it also happened to other economies hit hard by a crisis stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. But when a number of countries began to evacuate their citizens from Indonesia and imposed travel bans to the archipelago, we should think deeply about how to make amends for the messy handling of the pandemic.
Certainly, the exodus of expatriates and the travel restrictions constitute bad PR for Indonesia, despite the painstaking efforts to contain the spread of the disease, including the emergency social activity restrictions (PPKM Darurat) on Java and Bali from July 3 to 20 and the subsequent multi-tiered mobility curbs, which are due to end today.
Due to skyrocketing infections in Indonesia, European countries in the Schengen zone and 10 other countries have slapped an entry ban on all Indonesians, banned travelers from Indonesia or completely prohibited all flights coming from Indonesia. Close neighbor Singapore has even barred travelers from Indonesia, irrespective of nationality, from making a stopover transit at Changi Airport.
Reports of foreigners trying to flee Indonesia for safety have been rife, although the situation does not really match the chaos engulfing Jakarta in the wake of the ethnic riots that preceded a regime change 23 years ago. The Japanese government has sent planes for its citizens wishing to leave Indonesia, following a media report that the disease had infected at least 340 Japanese nationals, killing 14 of them. One of the evacuees told the Japanese channel NTV he left Indonesia because as a foreigner he had no access to vaccines.
We cannot but accept the views of global media, regardless of whether they represent the thoughts of the international community, which have described Indonesia as a new COVID-19 epicenter. Most recently Bloomberg ranked Indonesia the poorest in terms of COVID-19 resilience among 53 countries observed, citing, among other indicators, its high single-day mortality number and low vaccination rate.
Saturday’s statistics show the pandemic remains far from under control. On that day officials reported 39,372 infections, which is well below the record high 56,757 registered on July 15 but also far from the government’s target of bringing the number to below 10,000 a day through the PPKM. The decline, however, may not impress the world due to the low testing rate nationally. Besides, there are 545,447 active cases in the country, the highest in Asia.
The figures clearly do not bode well for the government’s claim of improvement in its response to the pandemic overall. It had resorted to stringent mobility curbs only after the second wave of the pandemic created havoc – and ironically it relaxed the policy before it bore fruit.
The way the international community has punished us is a loud and clear message for the need for changes to our strategy to deal with COVID-19. Our neighbors here and far, too, are always ready to lend a hand because the world will not be safe from the pandemic until everyone is safe.