Lessons from Covid lockdown

Lessons from Covid lockdown

Last week, Indonesia became the first country in Southeast Asia to surpass India in terms of daily Covid-19 cases. The country's mishandling of its lockdown should serve as a lesson for the Thai government which is tightening its own lockdown measures.

And on Friday, the country of over 270 million people received yet another dubious distinction -- according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, the nation has overtaken Brazil to become the country with the most novel coronavirus cases in the world.

This shows just how dire the situation is in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

In the capital Jakarta -- where one can assume a better standard of care and generally higher awareness of public health and diseases -- the government's failure to contain the spread of Covid-19 is glaringly apparent.

Oxygen stocks are running so low that tanks and generators had to be imported from neighbouring Singapore. Beds in intensive care units (ICUs) across the city are also scarce, forcing families and medical staff to make difficult decisions that just a month ago seemed so far away.

With hotlines and hospitals swamped with desperate calls and drop-in visits from victims and their anxious relatives, many choose to remain cloistered at home -- only to be found days later, either dead or dying, by concerned relatives, who then would have to deal with the aftermath of the virus.

Contagion was inevitable as a result, as reflected in a July 10 survey by Jakarta's public health office, which estimated that half of Jakarta's residents had been infected by Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

With a positive test rate hovering around 27%, according to data cited by Bloomberg, Covid-19 has become a runaway train on Indonesia's tracks, and no ordinary brakes will be able to stop it.

Authorities in Jakarta imposed widespread curbs on public activities and movement for about a month, with major arterial roads linking Jakarta to its surrounding provinces "sealed" to prevent non-nessential movement.

With businesses ordered to close and all-interprovincial links restricted to basic and emergency services, many had hoped the curbs would bring the number of new cases down.

No significant reduction, in fact, took place. Since the curbs were put in place on July 3, they have had little impact on public movement, which fell by just 16% when compared to the weeks before.

Authorities, seemingly baffled by citizens' resistance to being told to stay at home, made multiple appeals for the public to abide by the restrictions, to no avail -- on Wednesday last week, the nation logged 54,517 new cases, after several days of logging 40,000+ cases.

The reason is simple. With no work and little aid from the government, how are people supposed to survive?

The world has seen what a combination of a lockdown and zero aid can do -- millions of Indians struggled to survive when Narendra Modi's government imposed a lockdown last year with only a few hours notice.

What authorities in Jakarta -- or any other city for that matter -- need to remember is that curbs on movements will succeed only if people's basic needs are guaranteed. Without such assurances, the survival instinct will kick in. After all, why wouldn't anyone leave home, if staying home means starving to death?

The biggest problem with lockdowns in the region is that they are primarily intended to curb the activities and movements of middle-upper class citizens who can afford to hunker down without having to risk financial hardship.

Unfortunately, that isn't a choice open to many in the region whose income depends on them working outside home.

For them, defying restrictions isn't a matter of principle, but a matter of life or death -- after all, why can't they leave their homes to do some honest work and feed themselves, when the upper crust of society are free to run around and rub shoulders with one another, just because they were able to get vaccines through "unofficial" channels, or abroad?

This is just one question which authorities need to ask themselves before denouncing those who had no choice but to defy coronavirus restrictions.

With the pandemic showing no signs of easing any time soon, the problem -- and the desperation -- will only spread to more people.

As India and Indonesia have shown, the first to be affected are low-income labourers in construction jobs.

Thailand, unfortunately, is moving down the same path, with workers confined to their camps for over a month now.

It is just a matter of time before despair trumps any notion of pragmatism among the workers, so care must be taken to ensure there are no double standards in any effort to control the spread of Covid-19.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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