Outrage after Indonesian politicians get priority testing for Covid-19

Indonesia temperature tests
Medical officers checking passengers' temperature at a Mass Rapid Transit station in Indonesia, after the nation confirmed its first cases. Image: The Straits Times

By Mong Palatino

Many Indonesian internet users have expressed anger over the decision of the House of Representatives (DPR) to test its 575 members for Covid-19.

Indonesia has a population of more than 260 million. As of today, the country has 913 Covid-19 positive cases with 87 deaths. But many believe there are more cases that are being underreported and undetected because of the low number of Covid-19 testing in communities.

As of March 24, the government had only conducted 2756 tests.

President Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi) has been reluctant to impose a lockdown to contain the virus because of its drastic impact on the informal sector and daily wage earners.

Instead, the government has been aggressive in promoting social distancing in major cities to stop the spread of Covid-19. Jokowi also ordered the massive procurement of rapid testing kits in order to be rolled out in hotspots across the country.

But as the country waits for the test kits to arrive from China and other countries, news of the DPR decision to have its members tested outraged many on social media.

Members of Parliament can also nominate two or three of their family members and staff such as drivers and domestic help for rapid testing.

This infuriated many who questioned the rationale of prioritising politicians for Covid-19 testing instead of health workers and other frontliners, including those who already have symptoms of the disease.

Here are some comments on Twitter:

Human rights researcher Andreas Harsono shared the sentiment of many. He told The Sydney Morning Herald:

A lot of people are angry with parliamentarians as even doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers – the people on the front lines – are not being tested. It has made people very angry. This reinforces the idea that they are selfish.

In response, DPR officials said the test kits are self-funded by its members. A party mate of the president argued that DPR members need to be tested “in order to make sure that the government runs effectively”.

Mong Palatino is a Global Voices columnist, an activist and two-term member of the Philippine House of Representatives. He has been blogging since 2004 at mongster’s nest. This article is republished under a Creative Commons licence.

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