Indonesia’s COVID-19 Response is Abysmal.

Indonesia has been especially hard hit by COVID-19. The country now has the highest death toll in Southeast Asia just a few weeks after declaring itself “virus-free.” As of today, Indonesia has a reported 1,155 cases with 102 deaths.

The crisis is likely going to get far worse. Some experts predict that many more thousands of Indonesians will be infected by COVID-19 as of Ramadan and Eid, during which millions of the country’s Muslims typically travel to their hometowns.

Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, however, has chosen a different response. His government has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the crisis. Rather than exerting concrete efforts to stop its spread, he has moved slowly, probably in the hope that things would somehow work out for the best. He even said that “we should not worry about the virus.”

While other world leaders such as Donald Trump have also been criticized for making light of COVID-19 and its impact, government officials in Jakarta have taken it to another level: making jokes out of it.

Downplaying and making jokes

Similar to Trump, in the early days of the pandemic, the Indonesian government had tried to downplay the potential severity of COVID-19. In late January, for example, Jokowi stated that COVID-19 will never enter Indonesia as his government has distributed 135 thermal scanners to detect infections from visitors.

Mohammad Mahfud, a senior government official, also claimed that Indonesia would not be exposed to COVID-19.

While claiming that the government does not want people to panic over COVID-19 that has killed large numbers of people globally and domestically, the government often makes statements that are not based on clear data, which increasingly makes people more worried.

Terawan Agus Putranto, the country’s health minister, in mid-February, said that Indonesia is currently free from COVID-19 because of prayer. The same statement was uttered by Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin.

And when the first case of COVID-19 was found in Indonesia, Putranto also said that COVID-19 can heal itself.

Not only that, the Minister of Transportation, Budi Karya Sumadi, who is now infected with COVID-19 himself, was once reportedly joking 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 making jokes out of COVID-19 is Bahlil Lahadalia, the head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM). In his speech about how licensing is still the foremost hindrance of growth investments in Indonesia, Lahadalia facetiously said that the difficulty of obtaining a license is also the reason why COVID-19 has not appeared in the country.

Arrogant leadership

Confronted by this crisis, the government’s response has not only been to downplay the realities of COVID-19, but also to make some inappropriate jokes about it.

The government is playing with their lives.

At a time when the government should exert its best efforts to ensure the well-being of the people, our leaders are making jokes and being arrogant.

Now, as the number of positive cases and deaths increase and the country is entering an economic recession, the president seems to have changed his mind and has issued some major 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 of the government.

How come, in this very alarming situation, the government shows its lack of seriousness and instead responds with jokes?

For the people, it demonstrates how the people are currently under an arrogant leadership that has no shame in playing with their lives.