COVID-19 has already infected Indonesia, with Jakarta being the epicenter of the spread (Taher, 2020). As of this writing, the number of positive cases in the country has reached 1.046, with 87 patients died and 46 patients recovered. Aside from these numbers, there are people categorized as monitored persons (Orang dalam Pemantauan/ODP) and monitored patients (Pasien dalam Pengawasan/PDP). Unfortunately, COVID-19 has induced discrimination in many forms all throughout the country.
The Rise of Fear and Panic
Public concerns toward COVID-19 exponentially increased after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the condition as a pandemic. It also called on governments to take urgent and aggressive action, and announced COVID-19 as a threat to health security. Peter Hough in International Security Studies (2015) stated that for ages, the work of WHO have been acknowledged in health securitization, especially in this era of information.
However, in the time of COVID-19 securitization, amidst strong calls for immediate and effective action, the Indonesian government’s late response to cases led to it still scrambling for ways to deal with the situation. For one, it failed to detect cases in the early phase of the health crisis. This situation alarmed WHO, which led to sending a letter to President Joko Widodo to scale up emergency response mechanisms, including to declare a state of national emergency. The Government acted to scale things up, such as forming a task force. (The Jakarta Post, 2020) However, such late response induced public fear panic due to the sad state of the public health care system. (Hastuti, 2020)
This fear and panic transformed into a “watchful” state of mind. People began to take notice of their condition and the surrounding. They differentiate who is more likely to be infected by COVID-19 and who is relatively safe. Those who can like be exposed to the virus are stigmatized. This differentiation can lead to a binary perspective which push people to take a side. Some who think are safe refuse to accommodate those who are on high risk—leading to discrimination against the vulnerable other.
Discrimination and The Need to Overcome
Cases of discrimination against those labelled as “the dangerous carriers of the virus” are happening left and right in many parts of Indonesia. The two-first COVID-10 cases themselves experienced discrimination and intimidation when their personal information was publicly revealed. This gravely affected their mental health. (CNN Indonesia, 2020) This social treatment is perhaps experienced by other patients, ODP, and PDP, as well as healthcare front-liners. In fact, several medical personnel in Yogyakarta attended to a positive case were reported to have been stigmatized by their colleagues and the society. (Suryani, 2020) In Jakarta, several nurses and doctors who work at RSUP Persahabatan – one of many designated COVID-19 hospitals- also experienced different degrees of discrimination. Worse, stated by the chief of Indonesian National Nurses Association (PPNI), some of them were kicked out from boarding houses due unfounded fear of contamination (Mantalean, 2020). Though, efforts by Governor of DKI Jakarta to provide a resting place for medical personnel in Jakarta had eased tensions. Similar initiatives need to be encouraged.
Both patients and medical personnel have double burdens in time of this pandemic. They struggle to overcome the virus, as well as, discrimination they face. Unfortunately the government could not deal with this emerging social challenge, as it is still learning the ropes on how to strike the balance between mitigating COVID-19 and maintaining social and economic order throughout Indonesia.
Yet, discrimination, like the virus, is very contagious and has been ruining lives as we speak. The Indonesian government has to stand firm, and impose systematic ways to eliminate Covid-19 induced discrimination. Otherwise, irreversible gaps might widen, and might ruin Indonesian social fabric even after this deadly virus is treated.
Selma Theofany (Selma completed her study in Department of International Relations Universitas Gadjah Mada. Currently she is serving as a researcher at the SETARA Institute for Democracy and Peace)