Navigating Uncharted Water During COVID-19 Pandemic7 min read

April 26, 2020 5 min read

Navigating Uncharted Water During COVID-19 Pandemic7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” So said Vladimir Ilyich Lenin when he described the Bolshevik revolution 100 years ago. I believe he would not imagine that his statement applied to the breathtaking changes we are witnessing in today’s world situation.

As we Indonesian, reflect back to February, no one would imagine chairing a high-level meeting from their living room, school is closed, no weekend out with family, public gathering cancelled, and travel restriction measures continue to be applied. At the same time, 1,2 million factory workers face insolvency as COVID-19 closes their factory. They are facing laid off a situation that may lead them losing their home, health insurance and the ability to secure their life from the coronavirus threat (1). Less than a month, our lives trimmed down to their barest essentials. The idea to place Indonesia a $2 trillion economy in the next five years seemingly crumbled (2). A change so rapid, humanity can barely absorb it.

Figure 1 Amid the pandemic, a community in Yogyakarta shut their gate for outsider

Who does it better?

We are now living in the most significant global public health crisis. COVID-19 is a wakeup call; throwing into sharp relief is just how fragile our beliefs about the future. Indeed, it is a magnifying glass on inequality in the country with 271 million populations.  Nevertheless, it is a test to leadership both global, national, and local levels.

Throughout history, disaster and pandemic are often requires exceptional measure; some of them are voluntary, and some imposing draconian approach( 3). In the series of a disaster and crisis, we often rely on the authority for the best interest of the public at large. Pandemic COVID-19 is not an exception.

Many are already claiming that South Korea has won the war against the microscopic virus. The South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han argued in his influential essay published in El Pais. Focusing on the East part of the world (Japan, Korea, Hongkong, Taiwan, China and Singapore); he believes the triumph of this region departing from the cultural background of authoritarian mentality which comes from their Confucianism tradition (4). People are less rebellious and more obedient than in Europe. People in this region trust the state more. In those countries, the pandemics are fought not only by virologists or epidemiologists. Combat against the virus engaging a robust digital surveillance. In this case, big data is the key.

While many countries have accused China of “shamelessly” trying to capitalize their victory, western society might be willing to sacrifice their liberties in exchange to “safety”(5).  Harvard’s relation theorist Stephen Walt believes COVID-19 plays as a catalyst in the shift of power and influence from west to east (6). On the other side of the coin Professor Shiv Shankar Menon of Ashoka University, India argued how authoritarian or populist are no better at handling the pandemic (7). In the same vein, Francis Fukuyama stressed on trust in government and state capacity as the factor of success (8). As he praised Germany and South Korea, Fukuyama agrees the countries that responded early and successfully have been democracies- neither run by authoritarian or populist leaders.

The harsh truth is that a successful response to such disaster has nothing to do with government type. We witnessed how authoritarian countries did an excellent job flattening the curve. While some democracies have had effective responses, sadly Indonesia, as democratic countries seems like falling behind (9).

Figure 2 Japan introducing seating arrangement for physical distancing in a public space

The forgotten Socio-demographic attributes

As today is April 26, we celebrated disaster preparedness day, National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) pledging breaking the chain of COVID-19 transmission. However, Indonesia’s government still worried about the dual nature of this disaster- pandemic together with economic collapse- it does make things complicated. We, as citizens, believe our leaders know they are living through epoch-making times and have one eye on the daily combat.  

However, the formula to a government’s success in flattening the curve is the combination of leadership shared with competent administration. On top of that, putting the socio-demographic attribute as a policy factor must be a priority.

Lockdown, social distancing and physical distancing have become a buzzword since the outbreak of the global pandemic. These terminologies are adapted in different countries have also created confusion. It is a malleable expression that can be used almost accidentally while focusing on genuine intent. For instance, while social distancing mostly means avoiding close contact with people who do not live in the same living unit, and also public spaces, where surfaces may be contaminated. Nevertheless, no matter how often we heard about  such advice, it can be hard to change our conduct totally, and the specific advice about how to behave can be confusing and overwhelming.

On Demographic attributes, population structure as part of demographic factors has been severely influenced by the COVID-19. Considering population structure, countries such as Japan successfully protected their elderly in a  preventive measure.  Their measure is a targeted salutary sheltering of specific age groups combined with advice to physical distancing on the part of the general population. It did provide a substantial element of reducing cases and deaths (10).

Once upon a time of the previous month, we are free to roam around our neighbourhood. Now, in our semi-isolation between online meetings in the living room, we occasionally look up for screens to confirm -it is a frightening situation, what will happen next week?.  As a disease that may cause a pandemic is more likely to travel further and faster than before, we must be faster in our response. Without a breakthrough to overhaul our behaviour towards disaster preparedness and take into account the worst possible scenario; our disaster management nothing but a bleak reality.

Syarifah Aini Dalimunthe

Research Center for Population – LIPI

Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University Japan

Reading list

  1. Akhlas AW. Millions to lose jobs, fall into poverty as Indonesia braces for recession – Business- The Jakarta Post [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 25]. Available from: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/04/14/millions-to-lose-jobs-fall-into-poverty-as-indonesia-braces-for-recession.html
  2. ADB. Indonesia’s Economic Growth to Slow in 2020 on COVID-19 Impact, but Gradual Recovery Expected in 2021 | Asian Development Bank [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 24]. Available from:https://www.adb.org/news/indonesia-s-economic-growth-slow-2020-covid-19-impact-gradual-recovery-expected-2021
  3. Verchick RRM. Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World. Harvard University Press; 2012.
  4. Chul-Han B. Coronavirus: La emergencia viral y el mundo de mañana. Byung-Chul Han, el filósofo surcoreano que piensa desde Berlín | Ideas | EL PAÍS [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 26]. Available from: https://elpais.com/ideas/2020-03-21/la-emergencia-viral-y-el-mundo-de-manana-byung-chul-han-el-filosofo-surcoreano-que-piensa-desde-berlin.html
  5. Tian H, Liu Y, Li Y, Kraemer MUG, Chen B, Wu C-H, et al. Early evaluation of transmission control measures in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak in China. medRxiv [Internet]. 2020 Mar 10 [cited 2020 Apr 26];2020.01.30.20019844. Available from: http://medrxiv.org/content/early/2020/02/18/2020.01.30.20019844.abstract
  6. Walt SM. The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Change the World Forever [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 Apr 26]. Available from: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/20/world-order-after-coroanvirus-pandemic/
  7. Gilani I. COVID-19 hits globalization, multilateralism hard, experts say [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 26]. Available from: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/economy/covid-19-hits-globalization-multilateralism-hard-experts-say/1805349
  8. Fukuyama F. Trust Makes the Difference Against the Coronavirus – The Atlantic [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 26]. Available from: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/thing-determines-how-well-countries-respond-coronavirus/609025/
  9. Preuss S. Indonesia and COVID-19: What the World Is Missing – The Diplomat [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 26]. Available from: https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/indonesia-and-covid-19-what-the-world-is-missing/
  10. Baniamin HM, Rahman M, Hasan MT. The COVID-19 Pandemic: Why are Some Countries More Successful than Others? SSRN Electron J [Internet]. 2020 Apr 14 [cited 2020 Apr 26]; Available from: https://www.ssrn.com/abstract=3575251
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