Indonesia's Widodo defends COVID-19 record, chides 'polemics'

Reuters

Posted at Oct 04 2020 02:42 PM

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 3, 2017. Beawiharta, Reuters/file

JAKARTA - Indonesian President Joko Widodo defended his record of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, asking for no "polemics" or "commotion" amid criticism that he is putting the economy over public health.

The video statement late on Saturday came as the world's fourth-most populous country's COVID-19 caseload rose to 299,506. Its 11,055 coronavirus-related death toll is among the highest in Asia.

The government's handling of the pandemic since March has drawn criticism from some public health experts for prioritizing economic over public health concerns.

The health ministry has recently come under heavy criticism from volunteer groups and more generally on social media for what they say is insufficient spending on the pandemic, insufficient protection for health workers and high prices for private coronavirus tests.

"I can say that the COVID handling in Indonesia has not been bad, indeed it has been quite good," the president said in the statement on his official YouTube account, arguing the country's total cases and death toll are lower than countries with comparably large populations.

The president, known by his popular name Jokowi, defended his decision not to impose province- or city-wide lockdowns in places where cases continue to surge because he said that would have hurt people's livelihood.

"Prioritizing health matters does not mean we are sacrificing the economy, because sacrificing the economy is equal to sacrificing the lives of tens of millions of people," Jokowi said.

"Overcoming the pandemic is difficult, it requires hard work together, but I'm sure we can do it," he said. "The most important thing in this situation is we should not make polemics and there should be no commotion."

Southeast Asia's biggest economy is set to enter its first recession since the 1998 Asian financial crisis this year due to the pandemic. But the government's worst-case forecast of a 1.7 percent contraction in 2020 is better than many economies, officials say.

The president also pledged to order his ministers to improve their response to the crisis and urged people to complain or provide suggestions to the government.