It shouldn’t have come down to luck

Indonesians are waking up to news of sickness and deaths. Every day, the numbers continue to climb. Yes, it’s the record-breaking daily numbers, but even without it, the sheer amount of devastating updates have been rising each day; a neighbor testing positive, friends losing their loved ones, too many people on Twitter desperately seeking for hospital beds.

The coronavirus is getting closer and closer; and it doesn’t matter how careful you are or have been during the pandemic, it sure feels like you can’t escape the grip of this viral disease. And if it just so happens that you aren’t among those experiencing symptoms or testing positive today, you can’t help but consider yourself lucky.

This is what I was always afraid of.

You see, I’m one of the lucky ones, but at the rate things are going here in Indonesia — I have a sinking feeling that one day, perhaps sooner than later, my luck will run out. Not knowing when that may be, I wake up each day bracing for the worst while hoping for the best. One might be inclined to say that that’s just how life goes, and I’d be inclined to agree, too; except for the undeniable fact that the current COVID-19 crisis in Indonesia was preventable, if only we had a government that puts the lives of its people first from the get go.

Instead, we had a Health Minister who said that the coronavirus could be kept at bay as long as everybody prayed hard enough. That was before the first cases were confirmed on Indonesian soil. Even after, our officials never seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. Testing and tracing efforts remain consistently low relative to the country’s total population and public messaging on this health crisis has never been clear enough that it has created even more fertile ground for misinformation. Safeguarding the economy was always their main priority, never mind the fact that there isn’t an economy to speak of without a healthy population. Ours is a government so concerned with economic growth that it has failed to protect the people, and as such we are left in a limbo to figure way too many things out on our own and make do with what little we have.

In the eyes of this administration, the wheels of capitalism must continue to run. It doesn’t seem to matter that the wheels are now tainted with blood.

Here we are now, more than 15 months since COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, and we are facing our toughest challenge yet. Right now, Java and Bali are under the closest thing the country has seen to a lockdown as the Delta variant of the coronavirus devastates the nation, driving healthcare systems to the brink of collapse. But that’s where it’s gotten even more frustrating, isn’t it? PPKM Darurat might have the word “emergency” attached to it, but the regulation is still half-assed at best.

Have our leaders learned anything? Nope. They didn’t learn from the havoc that befell Italy during those early days, and they certainly didn’t learn from the devastation that ravaged India just a couple of months ago. The country’s exceptionalism appears to lie in its ability to ignore all the warning signs, and resorting to knee-jerk reactions instead of careful, strategic approaches. Public health experts and doctors have tirelessly raised concerns and aired their frustrations since the very beginning, but their helpful suggestions seem to have gone unheeded. Why do our government insists on ignoring the scale of this crisis, the realities on the ground? Why have our so-called leaders allowed the tragic loss of lives in order to keep the economy alive?

Remember how I said I was lucky? The truth is I’m privileged. Privileged to have a job that allowed me to work from home. Privileged to have a safety net with my family. Privileged in so many ways that mattered a whole lot during this pandemic. I am fully aware how mine is a different reality compared to many others in Indonesia; the ojol whose income depended on going around town, the worker whose office still expected them to show up, the frontline health workers who are facing the most risks for the greater good. It’s terribly unfair that some people are faring better than others because of their privileges, and how now, out there, it comes down to luck; lucky if you didn’t catch it, unlucky if you do. And what about those who had lost someone? Those who had their whole lives robbed off of them because of this terrible crisis?

Across social media, you may have seen how lives are returning to some kind of normal in other parts of the world. Some people are going out, dining in restaurants, meeting friends, and even traveling worry-free. It all feels so further away for us here in Indonesia, where the possibility of us becoming part of the COVID-19 statistics seems like it’s only a matter of time. It should have never come to this. We shouldn’t have to feel so helpless.

The lives are more than 270 million people are at the hands of this government. In an ideal world, we would have competent leaders who would put our survival and well-being first and foremost, who would have the foresight that health matters above all else during a pandemic. We have proof all around the world that good leadership and effective government handling are crucial aspects in successfully riding out the pandemic. We didn’t have to resort to miracles.

I am writing now because this prolonged madness didn’t appear out of nowhere. There have been many instances in which our officials blame the citizens for not obeying the protocols they have put in place; effectively deflecting how we reached this point in the first place. We have the right to question the efficacy of PPKM Darurat, because actual lives (and our future) are at stake. So as we continue to live through the unfolding of this questionable policy, hoping for the best, I also hope we continue to find love and strength in each other. And to those who have dedicated their voices, time, energy, and expertise to lift us above this nightmare, thank you.

Please don’t let them distract us from the fact that the ones in charge are the ones with the power to change our course, and for more than a year now they have consistently chosen profit over public health. Theirs were conscious choices with real-life consequences, and we will hold them accountable.

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