Half-hearted measures blamed in new pandemic epicentres . . .
The World Health Organization today urged Indonesia, the country with the highest daily COVID-19 infections, to implement “stringent” restrictions. Current restrictions exempt large sectors of the economy and are set to expire on Tuesday. While President Joko Widodo has cited declining case counts, high rates of positive tests indicate that the picture is likely worse than official numbers depict. Widodo’s approval rating is taking a hit, with reports suggesting he was persuaded by business elites to refrain from implementing a full lockdown. Meanwhile, Malaysia’s daily cases reached their second-highest peak. The Malaysian government has also been accused of taking half-hearted measures, with large outbreaks in the industrial sector and a lack of testing driving the upward trend. Allegations of “empty syringe” vaccinations circulating on social media may also be fueling vaccine hesitancy.
White flags, poverty lay bare economic toll . . .
The economic toll of even the current partial lockdown measures has been devastating. This month, a Malaysian social media campaign asking those struggling under lockdown to raise a white flag revealed thousands in need of food or other essential goods. Some of the white flags have been accompanied by black flags, which signal discontent with the government’s handling of the pandemic. Indonesia has lost its upper-middle income country status and now has a poverty rate over 10 per cent. Civil society groups claim that corruption and other factors have prevented government aid from reaching most of those in need.
Lessons from the region . . .
Before the full impact of the current wave materialized, Indonesian and Malaysian leaders cited India’s COVID-19 struggles as a precautionary tale. However, experts say that Indonesia and Malaysia failed to grasp the importance of stricter lockdowns from India’s experience, with a recent study now revealing India’s uncounted COVID-19 deaths to be up to as high as 4.7 million. Another underappreciated lesson from India’s experience is the need for sufficient economic relief. The Indian government recently confirmed that the urban unemployment rate reached 20.8 per cent during the country’s strict nationwide lockdown in early 2020. Providing adequate support while still taking strong public health measures will be the key challenge as governments try to ride out the current wave.