Consistency in Fighting Covid-19

Insensible people who blow Covid-19 conspiracy theories and loath vaccination are few, but loud. It can influence public opinion so that there is distrust in the government's handling of the pandemic.

As we are desperately struggling to contain the devastating attack of the Delta variant of Covid-19, Europe is raucously partying in soccer games.

Soccer fans are enjoying live broadcast of the Euro Cup 2020 matches with the audience almost filling up the stadium capacity. The spectators cheer and prance, and the majority of them look to be feeling comfortable without masks.

To enter the stadium, apart from the tickets, local spectators simply need to show vaccination certificates while foreign nationals must show negative swab test cards.

How could this happen? England and Hungary, which are two among a number of the hosting counties of the Europe’s biggest soccer championship, claim to have vaccinated more than 90 percent of their citizens.

They also say that they have succeeded in implementing health protocols with the local soccer authorities being assured it is safe to hold the football gatherings with drove of spectators.

The scene is unfolding to our suffocating jealousy. Many European countries have managed to "overcome" the pandemic so that they can relax public activities. Likewise in China.

We were shown a flaunted graduation ceremony of 11,000 students (17/6) wearing no masks in Wuhan, the origin of the Covid-19 virus. At the same time, we were suffering from the second bout of pounding and more devastating Covid-19 attacks.

Presenting Europe and China as models for Covid-19 handling could hold back the health protocols tightening campaign here. The scene of there being mask-free at the origin of Covid-19 might arouse questions: Why is it getting more strict here? Why not just follow the easing as found there?

Those questions might be followed with disbelief about the seriousness of this besetting new wave of infections. Despite the flooding news about misfortune amid the ongoing spike of Covid-19, some stubbornly remain in cynicism.

The relaxed health protocols at the Euro Cup 2020 has drawn concern from World Health Organizations, with regional executive director Robb Butler, as quoted by AFP, cautioning for swift actions in the case of the event showing an increase in transmission cases.

During a match in Denmark, five spectators tested positive for Covid-19. Tracing was then conducted by testing 4,000 visitors. I can't imagine there emerging more and more positive discoveries.

Overly confidence about a progressing situation in handling Covid-19 often leads to disaster. India once had the media praising it for moving close to herd immunity in February. WHO official Soumya Swaminathan warned of complacency and loosed health protocols.

And it later turned out -- after massive gatherings in celebration of the Kumbh Mela ritual bath in the Ganges River over April 1-17 — Covid-19 cases exploded in India. Horrifyingly, the spike in the cases bred a mutation of Delta variant that is now hitting Indonesia.

It seems difficult to consistently learn from the past year and half the pandemic has been battering. As social being, people innately build desire to get in touch each other even when they are told to implement tight health procedures, especially during big holidays.

Now we are incurring the repercussion from the breached ban on mudik coupled by the intrusion of foreign variants to Indonesia. Indeed, mudik travelers are not the only ones to take the brunt of the blames for the current Covid-19 explosion.

While citizens were prohibited from traveling home, the government did not close the gateway to our republic from outsiders. Criticisms about the government enforcing partial measures were ignored.


Spike amid limited resources

The daily rate of the cases, which previously had decreased to its lowest point, namely 2,385 cases (15/5) with 144 deaths, skyrocketed to reach 21,342 with 409 deaths (27/6). The following day (28/6) it fell slightly to 20,694 cases, but the death toll rose to 423.

Hospitals in Jakarta and other regions are overwhelmed by patients. Doctors and medical personnel are overworked. Every day, the media presents news of patients being unaccommodated in the treatment wards, resulting in queues outside the hospital. The death toll is soaring, the burial grounds are being filled up quickly.

The Kudus and Bangkalan cases, which were the initial epicenters of the case explosion, have contributed to the nationwide case escalation. It is there the Indian variant of B1617.2 or Delta was found and appears to be more contagious, more violent, and has now been spreading to 85 countries.

In the UK, the public health office has reported that the Delta variant is 60 percent more contagious than the Alfa variant. The doubling time ranges from 4.5 to 11.5 days. The Delta variant damages lungs more quickly, from the previous 5-10 days to just within a day! Many news reports about deaths say the patient had only 2-3 days of treatment in hospital.

A study in Singapore shows that infection with the Delta variant requires more oxygen, more intensive care, while the death risk is higher. This variant is also easier to infect children. With a character like this, Delta is so dangerous that the WHO includes it as a variant of concern (VoC) that requires heightened vigilance.

As of June 23, the Health Ministry recorded 160 positive cases due to the Delta variant across nine provinces, the most being in Jakarta with 57 cases. This shows the ferocious Delta variant has been spreading.

Epidemiologists are insistently campaigning that the most fundamental way to minimizing the chance of transmission is by implementing community activity restrictions, lockdowns or others.

However, the suggestions have been promptly faced with a fundamental argument: Who will ensure the supply of food for the majority of low-class people in the event of a lockdown? Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengku Buwono X was being realistic to concede that he would not have been able to finance the needs of the people during a lockdown. Likewise, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil admitted that he did not have the budget for a lockdown.

With all these limitations, the government has finally taken a more compromising stance by enforcing the minor-scale community activity restrictions or PPKM micro from neighborhood units (RT), community units (RW), up to villages, while continuing to boost vaccination rollout in order to reach herd immunity.


Don't be picky anymore

However, neither restriction measures nor vaccination are running smoothly. Problems are ubiquitous including circulating insinuating opinions and counter-narratives raised by those who actually have no competence.

Speeches are around to spark cynicism about pandemics and vaccination, as well as opposition to the restriction of religious gatherings despite the fact that large religious organizations, such as Muhammadiyah, NU, MUI, KWI and PGI, have shown their support to congregational worship restrictions in order to curb Covid-19 transmission.

Insensible people who blow Covid-19 conspiracy theories and loath vaccination are few, but loud. It can influence public opinion so that there is distrust in the government's handling of the pandemic. Muhammadiyah chairman Haedar Nasir expressed his annoyance about them. "You are irresponsible (persons)," he said (24/6).

Distrust has also been sparked by government’s inconsistency in handling the pandemic, which subsequently causes problems for policymakers. Allowing in foreign visitors while citizens were prohibited from traveling home for Lebaran was a vindication of insensitivity.

There is an impression of favoritism that the citizens are not treated justly, coupled with the reported cases of government officials or close aides holding a gathering and getting away with it.

Those who adhere to social restrictions can scent unfairness and arbitrariness in the measures enforcement. In fact, the most basic principle in making and implementing rules is equality before the law and justice.

Policymakers should introspect and discipline themselves so that trust strengthens again. If the aspect of justice is reflected in executing the policies in handling the pandemic, it is likely that the public will be more easily directed with policy makers being disciplined and just.

Among the criticisms that is beginning to come up is concerning people’s engagement with shopping malls and places of worship, which are said to be regulated unfairly.

Covid-19 Task Force head Ganip Warsito (28/6) announced that malls were allowed to operate until 5 pm from the usual 9 pm or so. Sensitivity to being fair in policies during the ongoing crisis is crucial in order to encourage public participation so that the pandemic handling can run successfully.

Sensitivity is also required in the punishment. It should not acted only on helpless people who are forced to follow the rules impartially. Elites should also be punished for breaking the rules.

The European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan resigned for violating the health protocols. So did then home affairs minister Samir Mobeideen and justice minister Bassam-Talhouni in Jordan. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was fined for holding a gathering when distributing certificates and not wearing a mask.

Most recently, British health minister Matt Hancock resigned (27/6) for an infringement on the health protocols by hugging and kissing his staff during a lockdown. There are many more examples of leaders and officials in other countries showing commitment of responsibilities.

"Social justice for all Indonesian people" must be applied consistently in this Pancasila state in order to strengthen the sense of mutual cooperation.

Making use of scientific methods, strong disciplinary attitude from the elites to common people will make it easier for us to get out of the pandemic. Accelerated vaccination program by the government that aims one million citizens a day must be supported. Vaccine jabs must also be accelerated for children and adolescents.

This kind of process has been adopted by countries that are considered to relatively be able to curb the pandemic. Among those countries are in Europe where cheers are reverberating from football stadiums. No need to be jealous. We just go through the process with discipline and consistency in the part of all circles so that we can get there.


Djoko Santoso
Professor at the Medical School, Airlangga University;
Chairman of East Java MUI Health Agency;
Covid-19 Survivor


(This article was translated by Musthofid).