This is how I imagine Indonesia will end; not with a bang of an atomic bomb launched by a formidable adversary, but with a “buzz” created by social media influencers—locally known as “buzzers”—that prevent us from making informed decisions in a global health emergency.
Indonesia, or at least its capital, is now on the verge of a massive outbreak of a highly contagious disease that has engulfed the world like wildfire, killing thousands of its inhabitants. The COVID-19 pandemic is no science fiction. It’s a real-life threat faced not only by Indonesia, but by over 140 other countries.
But it appears that nothing is off limits for a group of local social media influencers who are willing to turn every issue into a petty partisan squabble, framing an extremely serious discussion about ways to prevent a looming health disaster within a shallow, myopic and nauseating political spectrum.
In the past few days, at a time when the central government is expected to act fast to respond to the pandemic, social media users have been engaged in a heated discussion over whether Indonesia, or Jakarta, should impose a partial lockdown to “flatten the curve” of infection in order to save lives.
Free discussion is certainly a necessity in a democracy and I cherish the fact that Indonesians are able to talk about how the government is handling this crisis on social media. But, alas, this discussion is only useful if there are no groups of people with vested interests trying to muddy the waters and turn a supposedly rigorous, evidence-based policymaking process into a mere political game.
We have seen on social media an attempt to portray those who back the idea of imposing a lockdown as kadrun (desert lizard), the derogatory term used by supporters of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to describe his detractors, particularly those openly rooting for Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan as the next president.
Anies has called for a soft lockdown to prevent a wider contagion in the capital, which has become Indonesia’s epicenter of the pandemic with 215 confirmed cases and at least 18 deaths, more than half of the national toll.
President Jokowi, however, is reluctant to endorse such an extreme policy, fearing its dire social and economic consequences. In a thinly veiled rebuke at the Jakarta governor, who had briefly restricted the city’s transportation services, the President asserted that he alone held the right to impose a lockdown.
Since then, the COVID-19 outbreak has been political.
Jokowi’s concerns may be justified, but Anies’ call for a lockdown is also perfectly rational, especially given the facts we have: that Indonesia was dreadfully late to take measures to contain the virus in the early stages of the outbreak and that other countries have taken different lockdown measures to survive the virus.
I am not saying one of them is right or wrong. What we need is a clear discussion and effective decision-making to avert a disaster. The science is clear and simple: We need to flatten the curve of infection to prevent a surge in cases that could overrun hospitals and overwhelm our medical workers. There is no other way; the government must be able to test more suspected patients and take drastic measures to restrict people’s movement to slow down the spread of the disease.
The challenge now is how both Jokowi and Anies do those things while also protecting the urban poor and preventing social unrest.
To do that, the President and the governor, though perceived as political rivals, should put aside their egos and put the interests and safety of the nation above all things. Science should take the lead and politics should not have a say in this.
With Anies declaring an emergency on Friday, urging offices to suspend operations, shutting down bars and nightclubs, restricting services and canceling religious masses, it appears that the two political leaders have reached an agreement.
But the partisan squabble has not ended yet. Online conversations are still littered with political comments disparaging Anies’ policies or Jokowi’s indecision, disregarding the loose definition of a lockdown and painting the whole discussion in a black and white spectrum: pro-lockdown crowds against anti-lockdown crowds.
The fact is, not all Jokowi supporters back Jokowi’s policies, and not all of Anies’ constituents are happy with his decisions. But the noise coming from the influencers is too loud and interruptive that we fear it could cloud both leaders’ judgment.
President Jokowi has already come under fire for being excessively cautious in sharing information about the outbreak and failing to act fast to address it. We can’t afford to have a group of influencers drown out input for and criticism against him.
Online political influencers have been around for some time. And since partisan politics is the rationale of their existence, they have always been on the wrong side of history, supporting misguided government policies and attacking academic opinions.
We can only hope that the government, or the President himself, is not the one paying these influencers, though we are concerned that the government seems to consider social media influencers as equally if not more powerful than the media. Some of them have even been invited to the State Palace by the President.
If you are confused about how the central and local authorities are currently handling the situation, please don’t bring politics into this. The 2019 presidential election is over, and the COVID-19 pandemic has nothing to do with it.
A pathogen does not care whom you voted for in the last presidential election, or who will vote for in the next one. It is here now and it can infect everyone, regardless of your political, religious, economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
So don’t let the coronavirus infect you and your loved ones, and please don’t let social media influencers or “buzzers’ infect and eventually kill our democracy.
Our lives may depend on it.
Politics Briefing: Trudeau to recall Parliament for COVID-19 relief – The Globe and Mail
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is recalling Parliament in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 that has shut down huge sections of the economy and placed a massive strain on the medical system.
“This must be a Team Canada effort. Governments of all orders across the country are stepping up to fulfill their responsibility to Canadians. Canada hasn’t seen this type of civic mobilization since the Second World War,” Mr. Trudeau told his daily news conference on Wednesday.
Mr. Trudeau did not say why he wanted Parliament recalled but, speaking in Regina Wednesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said a massive government emergency aid bill passed last week is out of step with the government’s new plans to raise the wage subsidy for employers from 10 per cent to 75 per cent.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, usually written by Chris Hannay. Michelle Carbert is taking over for a couple of weeks while Chris helps with other important duties at The Globe. The newsletter is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
News is currently dominated by the COVID-19 outbreak. For a full rundown, you can subscribe to our Coronavirus Update newsletter (sign up here). Here are some stories that speak to the political and governmental response.
Canada’s three largest provinces have begun setting up temporary makeshift hospitals in anticipation of an influx of patients with COVID-19. In British Columbia, Vancouver’s waterfront Convention Centre will be equipped to house 270 patients. In Quebec, the government has earmarked 4,000 hotel rooms that could be pressed into service under its public health emergency laws. And in Ontario, Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington is building a temporary pandemic unit with 93 beds to accommodate patients who need treatment for the virus.
Government officials continue to work on tailored aid for the energy sector and other specific industries, but senior officials say final announcements are not expected this week. Senior federal sources say the immediate focus of officials is on hammering out the details on providing billions of dollars of emergency funds and wage subsidies to support the unemployed and protect jobs.
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer, along with other members of Parliament, are promising to donate their automatic pay hike to charity, as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the economy and puts thousands of Canadians out of work. There’s nothing Mr. Trudeau can do about the salary hike without recalling Parliament, which has been adjourned amid the outbreak.
Measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 are expected to continue until at least July, according to a government document obtained by the National Post. The detail, written in a COVID-19 “Daily Sitrep Highlights” by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on March 30, is the clearest government timeline to date on how long Canadians may have to endure measures to fight the pandemic.
The Globe takes a look at how Jean-Yves Duclos, president of the Treasury Board, is learning crisis management on the fly. The coronavirus crisis has turned the thoughtful, studious and rational Mr. Duclos, a former academic, into a key government spokesman at daily ministerial briefings and during frequent French and English-language media appearances.
Truck drivers and couriers are being barred from restrooms as they deliver essential goods across Canada. Drivers say their services are welcomed by businesses, but their basic human needs, including the need to relieve themselves, aren’t being accommodated because of fears they’ll spread COVID-19.
André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on the face mask debate: “Mask-wearing must be complementary, not a substitute, to other actions. In short, the modified pandemic advice is essentially: a mask if you feel it necessary, but not necessarily a mask.”
Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on enacting tomorrow’s physical distancing measures today: “For months, and especially in recent weeks as we’ve watched the novel coronavirus tear through northern Italy, epidemiologists and public-health experts have been warning us that the only way to get on top of the resulting COVID-19 disease is to get ahead of it. That is, to implement the measures today that will only really seem necessary weeks from now. If in the end, it looks like we overreacted, we can be confident that our containment efforts ultimately were successful.”
Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on saving Grandma or the economy: “Suppose, then, that social distancing succeeds in reducing the U.S. death toll from 2.2 million, the worst-case scenario, to ‘only’ 100,000. That’s a cool US$21-trillion in lives saved, worth about as much as the entire U.S. GDP. Save Grandma.”
Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on deficit levels: “The bad news is that Canada will be running a deficit at First World War levels. The good news is we are not at Second World War levels yet. It is not cause for cheering, but it is still worth putting the enormous spike in federal spending and borrowing in historical perspective.”
Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on Donald Trump’s blink in the face of coronavirus reality: “Before our eyes, Mr. Trump has morphed from virus denier, to a president who has adopted wartime rhetoric in an effort to rally his country behind him in its collective fight against a mortal, invisible enemy. And so far, it’s worked out beyond most expectations.”
On Politics: The Country Keeps Reeling – The New York Times
Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.
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Where things stand
At this point, even the best-case coronavirus outcome is not looking very good. Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, the top government doctors in charge of the crisis, said their target was to keep the nation’s deaths from the virus to under 240,000. In a scenario in which the government had done nothing to intervene, more than two million people could have died. Striking an uncharacteristically somber tone, President Trump warned, “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”
Fauci looked to New York for some (limited) signs of optimism. Saying that only by curbing people’s exposure to the virus, would the country be able to keep a handle on the fatalities, he ventured: “I don’t want to jump the gun on it. We’re seeing little inklings of this in New York.”
But the news coming from Andrew Cuomo, the state’s Democratic governor, was mostly grim. He announced on Tuesday morning that the virus had killed 332 people in New York since the day before — bringing the state’s total to 1,550. (That official toll will undoubtedly rise again this morning.) And for Cuomo, the crisis has hit home: He said at his daily news briefing that his brother, Chris, a CNN host, had contracted the virus. “He’s my best friend,” the governor said. “Now he’s quarantined in the basement. But he’s funny as heck. He says to me, ‘Even the dogs won’t come downstairs.’”
The ink is barely dry on the $2 trillion stimulus package that Trump signed last week, but House Democrats are already prepping to fight for more. It was the largest single stimulus bill in history, but the legislation’s provisions are not long-term. It offers most adults a series of one-time (not recurring) cash payments, and its expansions to unemployment benefits are good for just 13 weeks on top of what states normally allow. And millions of Americans have joined the unemployment rolls since the coronavirus began spreading widely a few weeks ago. Still, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, threw cold water on the idea of another big stimulus bill. “I’m not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items they wouldn’t otherwise be able to pass,” he said Tuesday on the radio show of Hugh Hewitt, a conservative commentator.
Photo of the day
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, spoke on Tuesday as President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci listened.
How New York is handling renters’ rights during the crisis
A cadre of progressive Democrats in New York, who led a recent partisan takeover of the State Legislature, have proposed a generous bailout for tenants and property owners who are hit hard in the cratering economy.
Andrew Cuomo has ordered a 90-day moratorium on evictions, but some lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, say that is not enough. One of the leading bills in the State Legislature, introduced by State Senator Michael Gianaris, would waive rent and mortgage payments for three months.
Cuomo would have to sign off on the bill, which some observers, including those in the tenants’ rights movement, question whether he would do and if it could withstand a legal challenge in court. On the other side, representatives of landlords are telling state lawmakers that the financial burden cannot be simply transferred from renters to property owners. They want their own financial help, too.
So far, the financial relief for renters under consideration in Albany is the most sweeping and generous package of potential aid in any state, and it reflects the newfound clout of tenants in a legislature long dominated by the powerful real estate industry. The proposed legislation has positioned New York as a leader across the country — though lawmakers in California and Washington State are not far behind in proposing similar assistance.
Coronavirus: Lack of testing becomes political problem – BBC News
Why does the government appear to be in such a mess over testing for the coronavirus?
It’s a simple question. The consequences of the delays are clear.
Some NHS staff who might actually be well are off work just in case, when they are desperately needed.
Many other workers who suspect they might have had the disease are stuck at home too, when if there was a test available they might get the all clear and be able to participate again in the economy.
And of course, the lack of tests makes it harder to track the progress of the disease.
To borrow an old business phrase, if you’re not measuring it, you’re not managing it.
If it’s easy to see why expanding testing is so important, why isn’t it easy for the government simply to make it happen?
Of course, buying tests for coronavirus is a lot more complicated than popping out to the chemist to buy a pregnancy test or a packet of paracetamol. This is a new disease. There is a well-documented shortage of the tests worldwide and lots of countries are scrambling to buy them as fast as they can.
But if every country is in the same race, why is the UK well behind countries like Germany and South Korea in its rates of testing, and compared to other smaller European countries, behind relative to the size of our population?
It is worth saying that the UK has tested more than Japan and at a similar rate to France but ministers have been promising to “ramp up” testing for many days now and progress, as the diseases advances, seems to be far too slow.
The government admitted yesterday that it was having real problems placing its hands on the tests, blaming the global shortage of the required chemicals.
But then there was confusion last night when it was suggested that there is no shortage of the raw materials required to make the ‘reagents’ needed for the tests in the UK.
Opposition figures suggested that the government simply hadn’t made a request to UK manufacturers to produce the extra amounts required. But it’s not just about the availability of raw materials but about the machines required to process the testing kits.
Industry sources say that some testing kits only work with particular kinds of machines, so the government is frantically trying to look for more generic equipment that could be used in different situations. And there’s a call this morning for the NHS to make its lab space available to ease the pressure which might help.
But those issues have been the same since the start of all this. As the coronavirus took hold in China, it was, according to one government source, “not unforeseeable” that the UK would need to scale up testing capacity dramatically.
And ministers and the various arms of the health system haven’t helped themselves by sometimes releasing contradictory testing numbers.
What then can explain the struggle?
One senior opposition politician tells me that there are two firms in the UK who have the capacity to make the tests from start to finish quickly but down to what they describe as a “lack of management systems” in the NHS, that simply hasn’t happened.
There is the general sense that Whitehall has struggled to make a complicated system work swiftly too.
But some government insiders admit now that the UK was simply too slow to grip the need.
There is certainly frustration in Westminster that, despite a big political push to try to solve this, progress is slow.
The explanation is a complicated one.
But the lack of testing is rapidly becoming a straightforward political problem.
Agent says Alexander Barabanov won’t rush NHL decision – TSN
Zoom facing increased privacy, security backlash as popularity soars – CTV News
Is the COVID-19 pandemic keeping you up at night? Here’s expert advice on how to get some sleep – The Globe and Mail
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
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