In Jakarta, doctors are dying, while common people do not know which data to believe, anymore. It appears that even some government officials do not trust government statistics.
At the beginning of the pandemic, for weeks, the Indonesian government was pretending that there is no problem whatsoever, insisting that number of cases was zero, thanks to prayers and divine intervention.
While talking about God and prayers, the President was advising to drink traditional herbal medicine as prevention. Well, at least he was not pitching detergent or disinfectant, for oral consumption.
In February, after I finished filming in Borneo (Indonesian part of the third largest island on earth where it is called Kalimantan), my Garuda Indonesia flight from Pontianak to Jakarta was full of people coughing, apparently sick; very sick. While other countries in the region were already measuring temperature and introducing comprehensive measures to curtail the pandemic, Indonesia was shockingly but determinately doing absolutely nothing.
As always, in the fourth most populous country on Earth, there was no budget, no willingness, no enthusiasm, and zero know-how how to tackle the emergency.
It goes without saying that even without pandemic, the entire country is one huge health hazard. It has one of the lowest numbers of beds and doctors per thousand citizens, anywhere on Earth.
Since the 1965 U.S.-sponsored coup, Indonesia has been in turbo-capitalist mode, neglecting everything public, from sanitation to garbage collection, but especially education and health. “If it does not bring profits right away, then why to bother dealing with it”, could be the regime’s motto. Quite the opposite of what could be observed in two socialist super-stars: China and Vietnam.
After the last visit to Borneo, my guts were, for weeks, destroyed, and I experienced temporary near-blindness, as my eyes were attacked by some parasites.
While the present administration of President Joko Widodo (known in Indonesia by his nickname “Jokowi”) is getting ready to abandon Jakarta (which is overpopulated, unplanned, plundered of almost all green areas, full of misery and health-hazards) and move the capital to Kalimantan, at the cost of tens of billions of dollars, the medical facilities of the country are desperately inadequate, and on par with the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
Since March, my friends in Indonesia have written to me that there has been an absolutely unprecedented number of funerals, broadcasted by loudspeakers of local mosques.
Everybody knew someone, usually at least a few people, who either died from the COVID-19 or were suspected by relatives of dying from it.
An anonymous, man, 34 years old (a researcher/student, living in Jakarta), wrote to me:
“Here, people die for nothing. Our government treats human beings only as numbers, be it in connection with the presidential elections last year, or with the corona outbreak. People are angry and have lost their trust in the government. In dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, the central government interference only makes the situation worse. Our government has never felt guilty neither apologizes to its own people for incompetence in managing the country; for the 1965 genocide, the May 1998 riots, or now, for the mismanagement during the coronavirus disaster. One day, this will be all written in history books.”
Almost all disasters in Indonesia have an extremely devastating character. Tsunamis kill an unacceptably high number of people, because the early warning systems get stolen, but also due to lack of planning of coastal communities, as well as corruption. Earthquakes, volcano eruptions: all the same – no planning, no support for the poor. Lethargy, acceptance of fate, and sluggishness.
Fear of COVID-19 triggered at least some initiatives among Indonesian citizens.
Bloomberg reported on May 29, 2020:
“Indonesia’s spiraling coronavirus crisis has citizens taking matters into their own hands, with networks of volunteers compiling data that shows the death rate in the world’s fourth-most populous nation may be three times higher than what the government says.
Concern that the country’s low testing rate means virus deaths were going unrecorded spurred citizens, health workers and scientists to set up LaporCovid-19 and KawalCOVID19, two open-source data platforms that allow people around Indonesia to report suspected Covid-19 deaths via WhatsApp and Telegram.
More than 4,000 deaths among suspected Covid-19 patients since early March haven’t been included in the official numbers, according to data collected by the platforms. That’s on top of the government’s tally of 1,520 fatalities, which already gives Indonesia the highest virus death rate in Southeast Asia.”
But even the estimates of extra 4,000 deaths seem to be extremely low. Some experts believe that both the number of cases, as well as fatalities, might be 15 times higher than the official numbers. That would be in line with the estimates for Brazil, yet another country which is governed by the extreme right-wing regime.
In a stark departure from the common Western mass media rule of not criticizing submissive, anti-left, and pro-market Indonesia, several mainstream publications in North America and Europe decided not to remain silent. That itself is news. On May 28, 2020, The New York Times fired a detailed and very accurate report on the COVID-19 which has been devastating the archipelago:
“In an alarming glimpse at what could be runaway transmission, a random sampling of 11,555 people in Surabaya, the country’s second largest city, found last week that 10 percent of those tested had antibodies for the coronavirus. Yet the entire province of East Java, which includes Surabaya, had 4,313 officially confirmed cases as of Thursday.
“Massive infection has already happened,” said Dono Widiatmoko, a senior lecturer in health and social care at the University of Derby and a member of the Indonesian Public Health Association. “This means it’s too late.”
Yet even as the country’s caseload accelerates, the Indonesian government has said that national coronavirus restrictions, already a scattershot effort, must be relaxed to save the economy.”
Indonesian leaders collaborate, in the most embarrassing and servile way, with all U.S. administrations. Democrats or Republicans, it does not seem to matter. But the current President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), is doubling his back in front of President Trump and his market fundamentalism. It is done in the most embarrassing and, for Indonesia, a destructive manner.
That may be the reason why the “liberal” press in the United States, generally hostile to Mr. Trump and his allies, is now ready to provide objective reporting about the dire state of the collapsed Indonesian state, which includes misery in which more than half of the population has to live, tremendous environmental devastation, or the COVID-19 disaster.
The New York Times report continued:
“There is widespread concern among public health experts, however, that Indonesia’s health care system will break down if the coronavirus spreads as intensely as it did in the United States or Europe.
Worryingly, more than half of Covid-19 deaths in Indonesia were of people below age 60. In the United States, most deaths have been among the elderly. The relative youth of the victims in Indonesia, health experts say, hints at hospitals that are unable to provide the kind of lifesaving treatment offered in other countries.
And epidemiologists fear an even bigger surge in cases next month. Last week, in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, millions of Indonesians gathered to pray and travel at the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. In the capital, Jakarta, more than 465,000 vehicles left the capital during the holiday period, according to a toll operator.
While the Indonesian government announced some coronavirus travel restrictions in late April, they have not been enforced rigorously, critics say. Loopholes abound. Airport staff have complained about entire families, including children, flying under exemptions meant for business travelers.
Modeling by epidemiologists at the University of Indonesia forecasts that up to 200,000 Indonesians may require hospitalization for the virus because of Ramadan-related activity.”
“Indonesia’s testing rates are the worst among the 40 countries most affected by the virus — 967 per 1 million people, compared to 46,951 per 1 million people in the United States, as of Wednesday — Indonesians, especially those with asymptomatic or mild cases, are unknowingly spreading the virus, infectious disease experts warn.”
And then, predictable and correct punch:
“The disaster is still coming,” said Dr. Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist who led the University of Indonesia’s modeling effort. “Even after many months, we still have leaders who believe in miracles rather than science. We still have terrible policies.”
For weeks, Jokowi’s government lied about the number of cases. “Not to cause panic’, he ‘explained’ later. As mentioned earlier, the government was bragging that there were no infections, because of the “prayers”, and prayer is what was suggested by the Minister of Health, to avoid getting infected by the virus. It was also advised, by the President, that people drink traditional herbal drinks, and exercise, as prevention.
For months, at least until March, the Indonesian government had been lying to the world and its citizens. Or, as some put it mildly, the government “was in denial”. While neighboring countries, like Singapore and Malaysia, were combating virus since January, Indonesia was sweeping facts under the carpet until March. Hospitals in Java were overflowing with pneumonia cases, but as many experts now suggest, the bodies were buried and coronavirus tests discouraged.
Lying virtually about everything is a remarkable feature of the Indonesian regime. It lies about its past (whitewashing all about the 1965 fascist US-backed coup in which 2-3 million people were slaughtered), about its social collapse (much more than half of its citizens live in misery, but the government acknowledges only around 10%), even about the number of people who actually reside in the country. Ten years ago, I worked with the top U.N. statisticians who insisted that more than 300 million people were living in Indonesia, while the government claimed it was around 250 million at that time. Why? So, the most deprived people would not be scarring those lovely reports which have been glorifying extreme-capitalist country. And so that the budgets could easily disappear in deep corrupt pockets of government officials and corporate bosses, instead of feeding the poor.
Now, Jokowi’s government is ready to “open the country again”, in order to improve the economy. Pandemic will now, after Ramadan, most likely explode, but that does not seem to matter. Things can always be hushed, in a unique Indonesian way.
The Minister of Finance is already talking about the fight against poverty being pushed back, by many years. She is preparing people for upcoming suffering. That, while big Indonesian business is getting billions of dollars in bailouts and support.
She is an “expert”. She knows how the poor can get robbed efficiently. After all, Ms. Sri Mulyani Indrawati used to be Managing Director of the World Bank.
So far, despite social collapse (which goes so far unreported at home and abroad), environmental disaster, and on-going COVID-19 fiasco, one of the most heartless systems on Earth is surviving.
The logic is simple, but only if one is ready to see: If a country can deny the existence of over 50 millions of its citizens, if it refuses to admit misery in which the majority of its people is forced to subsist, if the ‘elites’ are allowed to steal endemically from the nation, then why wouldn’t regime just write-off tens of thousands of mainly poor people who are dying, undiagnosed and with hardly any help, from the COVID-19 or any other disease?
Indonesian blood-lettings are historically massive; millions of people, or at least tens of thousands at each time. Nobody remembers. Truth is never told. Communism and socialism are banned. Religions are obligatory. People are conditioned to accept their fate. Nothing new!
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He’s the creator of Vltchek’s World in Word and Images, and a writer that has penned a number of books, including China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries Saving Millions of Lives. He writes especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”