Coronavirus: Hot spots

Blame game as infections surge across Indonesia

Critics claim govt prioritising economy over health; officials say public not heeding rules

Indonesia is caught in a blame game as its Covid-19 cases surge.

The government has blamed it on the failure of people to comply with safety protocols but critics say the government has prioritised resuscitating the economy over dealing with the pandemic.

Much of the anger against the government has been directed at Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto. Thousands of Indonesians have signed an online petition calling for his dismissal because he has "failed" to curb the surge in cases.

About 40,000 people so far have signed the petition posted on the website last Wednesday by a coalition of civil society and social groups, and academics.

"From the beginning, Health Minister Terawan has taken this outbreak lightly. His handling (of the pandemic) is not serious," the coalition wrote.

They demanded that President Joko Widodo replace the minister with someone more competent.

Dr Irma Hidayana, one of the petition organisers, told The Straits Times more than 250 health workers had succumbed to the virus due to lack of protective equipment.

As of yesterday, Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country with 270 million people, had recorded 311,176 Covid-19 cases, the second highest in South-east Asia after the Philippines. But Indonesia has the highest death toll in the region with 11,374 fatalities.

The main reasons for the spike in cases in South-east Asia's largest economy include insufficient testing, weak contact tracing and the lifting of large-scale social distancing, known locally by the acronym PSBB, in the provinces since June.

The public has criticised the government's handling of the health crisis, saying it was more concerned about the economy than public health.

President Joko, in a video statement last Saturday, said: "Prioritising health matters does not mean we are sacrificing the economy, because sacrificing the economy is equal to sacrificing the lives of tens of millions of people.

"Overcoming the pandemic is difficult, it requires hard work together, but I'm sure we can do it.

"The most important thing in this situation is that we should not be indulging in polemics and there should be no commotion."

The National Covid-19 task force has blamed the public for ignoring health protocols such as wearing masks and social distancing.

Jakarta, a city of 11 million, remains the worst-hit place in the country, accounting for 80,979 cases and 1,802 deaths as of yesterday. The city's administration has re-imposed a partial lockdown to try and contain the spread of the virus amid reports of a shortage of hospital beds to treat patients.

Other badly affected provinces are West Java, Central Java and East Java. And tourism-dependent Bali, whose economy has been hit severely, has had to delay a plan to welcome foreign visitors by September, pushing it back instead to the end of this year. The resort island, which reopened to local tourists in July, has refocused efforts on this front for now.

  • Additional reporting by Linda Yulisman

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2020, with the headline Blame game as infections surge across Indonesia. Subscribe