Indonesia’s COVID-19 Response is Abysmal.

Indonesia was particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the country had the highest death toll in Southeast Asia. Just weeks after declaring itself “virus-free,” Indonesia reported 1,155 cases with 102 deaths.

In actual fact, the situation became far worse. A number of experts predicted that many more thousands of Indonesians would also be infected by COVID-19 during Ramadan and Eid, during which millions of the country’s Muslims typically travel to their hometowns.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his government repeatedly downplayed the severity of the crisis. Rather than exerting concrete efforts to stop its spread, he moved slowly, probably in the hope that things would somehow work out for the best. At the time, he even said that “we should not worry about the virus.”

While other world leaders such as President Donald Trump have also been criticized for making light of COVID-19 and its impact, government officials have taken it to another level and astonishingly made jokes about the virus.

Similar to Trump, in the early days of the pandemic, the government had downplayed the severity of COVID-19. In late January, for example, Widodo stated that COVID-19 would never emerge in Indonesia as his government had distributed 135 thermal scanners to detect infections from travelers.

While claiming that the government did not want people to panic over COVID, the government often made statements that were not based on facts, which increased people’s concerns.

Terawan Agus Putranto, the country’s health minister, in mid-February, claimed that Indonesia was free from COVID-19 because of people’s prayers. Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin uttered the same statement.

Furthermore, when the first case of COVID was detected in Indonesia, Putranto also maintained that COVID-19 would heal itself.

In addition, the Minister of Transportation, Budi Karya Sumadi, who himself ended up contracting COVID, reportedly joked with the president, saying that Indonesians have a good immune system because people eat “Nasi Kucing,” an Indonesian dish consisting of a small portion of rice with dried fish.

Another official who made jokes regarding COVID was Bahlil Lahadalia, the head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM). In his speech related to how the difficulty in obtaining a permit remained the foremost obstacle to investment in Indonesia, Lahadalia facetiously stated that the permit issue was the reason why COVID-19 had not appeared in the country.

Confronted by this crisis, the government’s response was not only to downplay the realities of COVID but also to make various inappropriate jokes about it. By doing so, the government played with people’s lives.

At a time when the government needed to ensure the well-being of the people, our leaders were making jokes and being arrogant.

Subsequently, as the number of positive cases and deaths increased and the country entered an economic recession, Widodo appeared to have changed his mind and issued significant orders to curb the disease.

Nonetheless, the government’s response in the early days of the pandemic will not fade from people’s memory. People are now afraid and increasingly distrusting the government.

With respect to the people of Indonesia, it demonstrates how the people are currently living under an arrogant leadership that takes their lives lightly.