By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto
JAKARTA (Reuters) – A flood of criticism of the Indonesian government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the behaviour of many Indonesians has appeared on social media under a hashtag that translates as #IndonesiaWhatever.
The posts followed online comments by a doctor and social media influencer, Tirta Mandira Hudhi, who was outraged by the easing of a flight ban that led to passengers inundating a Jakarta airport late last week and ignoring guidelines on social distancing.
On his Instagram account, the doctor posted a picture of himself in full personal protective equipment, holding a sign with the words “Indonesia? Whatever. Do what you like!”
By Monday, the post had drawn more than 400,000 likes and the hashtag #IndonesiaTerserah was among the top trending on Instagram and Twitter.
Indonesia has the highest COVID-19 death toll in East Asia outside China, but was slower than neighbours to impose restrictions to curb the virus and is already discussing when to relax them.
Achmad Yurianto, a health ministry official, defended the government’s handling of the epidemic, telling Reuters there had been no relaxation of social distancing policies despite its revision of travel restrictions.
But the doctor said his post was prompted by scenes such as those at the airport which undermined the efforts of frontline medical workers.
“Why are we Indonesians so careless and reckless. At least wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Respect the volunteers who are working hard to save your lives,” commented one Twitter user, @bitts1969.
A musician, Willy Winarko, penned a #IndonesiaTerserah rap song, and @Peacetoall20 wrote that the government had given up trying to persuade people to stay at home, adding: “Now survival of the fittest begins.”
In another online comment, Doctor Anggi wrote: “Health workers fight to break the chain of COVID-19, while on the other hand people just break the rules… It’s like unrequited love #IndonesiaTerserah”.
The coronavirus has killed 1,191 people in the country of nearly 270 million. Since March, 52 Indonesian doctors, nurses and dentists have died from COVID-19.
Indonesia has continued to record hundreds of new coronavirus cases each day. The total now surpasses 18,000, with health experts sceptical the epidemic is under control.
(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Timothy Heritage)