Coronavirus News Asia

Covid-19 twin crises set to overwhelm Indonesia

JAKARTA – With widespread social restrictions in effect across most of Indonesia, President Joko Widodo is belatedly starting to acknowledge the massive twin public health and economic crises he now faces. The leader’s signals increasingly betray a sense that he has few good options to respond.

Monday’s announcement decreeing Covid-19 a national disaster is both confusing and tardy, particularly after two months of mixed messages and misleading narratives from the presidential palace, the Health Ministry and the National Disaster Coordination Agency (BNPB), all of which point to a government loathe to level with its citizens.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Indonesia’s 134 million workers face a looming new threat: the economic blowback of Covid-19’s death and massive loss in productivity.

A US$25 billion economic relief package announced earlier this month has landed with minimal impact and caused tremendous confusion about who stands to benefit.

Now more than ever Indonesia must rapidly enhance its national crisis management capacity and staff it with experienced professionals that know how to simultaneously deal with a national disaster and economic crisis.

With the vast majority of Indonesia’s 134 million workers either living in absolute poverty, hailing from low income families, or comprising a fragile aspiring middle class, Indonesia’s economy still relies on its “battlers” who struggle to make ends meet.

For people comprising the working poor and their families living across Indonesia, struggling to get by and inadequate health care have become a form of co-morbidity.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visiting a hospital for Covid-19 patients in Batam, April 2020. Photo: AFP via Presidential Palace/Rusman

Indonesians can’t “unforget” certain slogans and stories, narratives that frame the national consciousness. One of the most treasured of these is a story about a peasant-farmer named Marhaen who independence hero Sukarno met in West Java almost a century ago.

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