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Two weeks ago, Gusman Suherman lost his father to COVID-19.
- As infections rise in Indonesia, health experts warn outbreak could be as severe as India’s devastating second wave
- Leading Indonesian Epidemiologist Says Instead Of Achieving Collective Immunity, Indonesia Has Achieved ‘Collective Stupidity’
- Experts say they fear the government’s message is not clear and consistent
Before he died, Mr. Suherman said his father was consumed with coronavirus misinformation and “hoax messages” circulating on text messaging apps in his hometown of Bandung, the capital of West Java, Indonesia.
“He received information [on WhatsApp] saying that if you go to the hospital, they will deliberately pass the virus on to you, ”Suherman said.
He said that as a result of the text messages, his father did not want to go to the hospital despite his critical condition.
An alarming rise in infections in Indonesia has prompted health experts to warn that the country’s second wave could be as bad as India’s.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Thursday announced new emergency measures to contain the epidemic that has strained the country’s medical system.
It comes as the average daily number of cases in Indonesia over the past week has reached 20,000.
In Mr. Suherman’s neighborhood alone, at least nine people died from COVID-19 in the same week as his father.
While he has said he previously did not believe the coronavirus would reach his family, Mr Suherman now fears conspiracy theories circulating on social media could cause serious damage.
“I worry that this kind of information is received by people who are too lazy to find out or double-check the truth, [and that] their chances of finding reliable sources are a bit difficult, ”he said.
“They will believe any information they receive.”
A leading epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia, Dr Pandu Riono, called the situation in Indonesia “collective stupidity”.
“Indonesia has long been in a state of ‘collective stupidity.’ It is human behavior that encourages the virus to replicate, reproduce and become more contagious,” Dr Riono said on his network account. social.
He said government officials sent mixed messages and made bad decisions, while many people in Indonesia refused to follow health protocols and were reluctant to receive injections.
Dr Riono told the ABC he started using the phrase ‘herd stupidity’ when he saw people celebrating and traveling to mark Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday marking the end of the world. holy month of Ramadan.
“Instead of staying at home to prevent transmissions, they still took a trip to their hometown and posted stories on social media about whether the trip was easy or difficult when crossing borders,” he said. he declared.
Dr Riono added that the government does not learn or follow the advice of experts and scientists.
“We want a miracle, so we let ourselves be deceived, be persuaded to use ivermectin as a COVID drug,” said Dr Riono, referring to an antiparasitic drug which experts say should not be used to treat COVID-19.
“Even government officials can be easily duped into even endorsing this drug. This is another stupidity.”
Mr. Suherman said the term “herd stupidity” was a bit harsh, but he knew where it came from.
“Indeed, we have a stubborn bunch of people, but I can understand those who don’t believe in COVID-19 for financial reasons,” he said.
“They can’t think hard when they can barely make ends meet.”
After losing his father, Mr Suherman said he hoped people would hold those who shared unverified information to account.
“We have to recheck. But if you can’t bother to recheck, then don’t share it.”
Indonesian COVID-19 task force spokesperson Professor Wiku Adisasmito told ABC via text message that the Indonesian government has done its best to deal with the pandemic.
“We must unite to fight COVID-19,” said Professor Adisasmito, who has self-isolated after recently testing positive for coronavirus.
“Even if someone is considered stupid, who is considered smart to deal with it? “
Mixed messages from the government
A study published last month by the Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) found that anti-vaccine messages were often associated with anti-Indonesian and anti-Chinese sentiments.
The study, which focused on TikTok users nationwide, found that these messages were “typically formulated in religious discourse and delivered by religious micro-influencers.”
Yatun Sastramidjaja, visiting researcher at the institute and author of the study, said it was a “worrying trend”.
“Firstly because it indicates the government’s chronic failure to gain the public’s trust,” she said.
“There is [also] a long-standing general distrust of government motives, which prioritizes the interests of elites over those of the general population.
“Second, in a climate of growing mistrust, confusion and fear, religious micro-influencers can offer their followers a sense of refuge by nurturing faith in the protective power of religion and the larger plane of the All- Powerful.”
Dr Sastramidjaja said some parts of the community were opposed to the “mainstream reality”.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information said it recorded 1,723 hoax messages about vaccines and COVID-19 this year alone.
The ministry said they had been found on various social media platforms and shared most widely on Facebook.
Yanuar Nugroho, an Indonesian sociologist at ISEAS who worked in the presidential offices of Joko Widodo and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said the community was vulnerable to misinformation.
He said the government needs to do a better job communicating pandemic risks.
“Messages delivered in a risky situation, in a context of crisis, should not be ambiguous,” said Mr. Nugroho.
Mr Nugroho said an example of a mixed message was when the government imposed restrictions on people attending Eid celebrations but allowed visits to tourist attractions.
“[The government made] a call not to travel, but now the state-owned company Garuda Airways has just launched a promotion: fly with Garuda, get vaccinated for free… this, in my opinion, shows the government’s inability to build a perception of risk. “
Mr Nugroho said the government itself was not clear on the message it wanted to send to the public.
“In this critical situation, the government must have a unique perception and a clear and consistent message.”
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