JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The state of the union address on Monday (Aug 16) provided President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo an opportunity to account for the government’s efforts to manage the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 18 months and to explain how he planned to bring health crisis to an end.
As the pandemic rages on despite Herculean efforts to contain the virus, some have been tempted to say the Jokowi administration has failed, especially because some other countries, including a few Asean neighbours, have fared far better than we have.
For the record, Covid-19 has infected more than 3.38 million people in Indonesia and has killed more than 118,000. The havoc the pandemic has created does not end there.
Millions of people have lost their jobs or have had their incomes reduced, and as a result, many have fallen into poverty.
Indonesia was recently demoted to the lower-middle-income group of nations, after a little more than a year in the upper-middle-income ranks.
The pandemic has dealt a big blow to our economy – at a scale we might never have imagined. If the recovery follows the contours of the 1998 Asian financial crisis, it may take the country years to regain ground, let alone escape from the middle income trap.
But in the eyes of an optimistic Jokowi, the pandemic has brought Indonesia blessings in disguise. Covid-19, he said, had significantly changed people’s understanding of health, health-related habits and healthcare infrastructure.
In an effort to fight the pandemic, people have followed strict health protocols, ranging from washing their hands to consuming nutritional food in the hopes of strengthening their immunity.
Jokowi also claimed the health crisis had resulted in the improvement of national institutions, as evinced by consolidation in the central government and between the central government and regional administrations, which he said the country needed to face its common viral enemy.
At the community level, the pandemic has strengthened social institutions. Solidarity, gotong royong (mutual support) and compassion, which have long characterised the nation, have flourished.
In many regions hit hard by Covid-19, for example, self-isolating residents receive full sets of daily meals from their neighbours. In the economic sector, Jokowi credited the pandemic for the robust growth of e-commerce and the digital economy as a whole.
Industry 4.0 is gaining traction and looks set to be the new mode of operation. In a broader sense, Covid-19 has accelerated the digitisation of all aspects of life, with all of the attending opportunities and risks.
Jokowi’s glass-half-full perspective in approaching crises explains why his government has declined to sacrifice the economy for public health and vice versa.
His disregard for lockdowns and the relaxation of mobility curbs on one hand and his push for mass vaccination on the other hand clearly show his ambition to win on both the health and economic fronts.
All nations need leaders who can spread optimism, especially in difficult times like today. But reconciling health and the economy is a risky undertaking as the country follows a long and painful road to recovery.
Like Jokowi said, our resilience is being put to the test, yet again.
- The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.
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