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Why a ‘new normal’ might fail in Indonesia and how to fix it

The daily increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Indonesia is a long way from slowing down. But Indonesia will still go ahead with its decision to move to a “new normal” to revive its sinking economy. Under this policy, people can return to work and school while shops and malls start to open with health precautions.

Last week was tough for Indonesia, with new cases reaching a record of more than 1,000 seven days in a row. On Wednesday, Indonesia overtook Singapore as the country with the most COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is under pressure to re-open its economy to stimulate growth, reduce unemployment and prevent a further escalation of poverty.

But Indonesia’s new normal directive suffers from three serious flaws. We propose three ways to promote a new normal directive in Indonesia that will be suitable to all Indonesians.

The curve isn’t in decline

President Joko Widodo announced the new normal protocol on May 15.

Since then, politicians and businessmen have been using the new normal narrative to navigate economic uncertainties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. They argue a new normal might lead to social stability, and promote faster economic recovery and growth.

But talk of a new normal creates a false sense of security and encourages people to think Indonesia has the pandemic under control. Given the number of cases continues to rise, Jokowi’s directive is premature.

Indonesia’s pandemic curve shows no sign of decline, since April 2020. As of June 24, there are 49,009 cases with a fatality rate of 5.3%. In the last 24 hours, as many as 1,113 new cases have been recorded.

Testing rates remain among the lowest in the world. As of June 24, only 2,444 per one million people have been tested – compared to Singapore (116,996 per one million), Australia (84,459) and Malaysia (21,436).

The number of infections remains among the highest in the world too. As of June 24, out of 413,919 tests, 11.8% were positive – much higher than Italy (0.4%), Malaysia (0.39%) and Australia (0.05%).

With a low rate of testing, a poor health-care system, poor surveillance and lack of data transparency, the new normal policy can lead to a new wave of mass infections and cause long-term socioeconomic disruption.

Two days after relaxing restrictions prematurely, Spain reported 25 new cases in their three districts, forcing a return to some restrictions. Similarly, Germany implemented a new normal on April 20 when the number of new daily cases was still above 1,000. Its number of cases has seen surged. Over the last seven days, a total of 4,215 cases were recorded.

A policy that only benefits some

A new normal is a top-down policy with a one

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