TCSS Security Commentaries #018

IF STATE AND SOCIETY DO NOT SYNERGIZE IN HANDLING THE SPREAD OF THE EPIDEMIC, THEN THE IDEALS OF HERD IMMUNITY ARE JUST UNTENABLE. WHAT COMES INSTEAD, IS HERD STUPIDITY.

Elpeni Fitrah, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

Herd Stupidity is a parody of herd immunity which is one way to end the coronavirus pandemic. The term ‘herd stupidity’ describes the government’s and the public’s neglect of the pandemic. From his Twitter account, epidemiologist Dr. Pandu Rionu stated that Indonesia had long been in a state of “Herd Stupidity.”

The term herd stupidity has resonated in Indonesia for the past few days to describe how chaotic the handling of Covid 19 in Indonesia is. The keyword herd stupidity is buzzing in the social media world after the government tightened the mobility of the people by implementing a micro-restrictions system that is enforced at a local level, including villages and sub-districts from June 22nd – July 5th.

This article intends to show that what Indonesia is experiencing may also be shared by many other countries in the world after almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic destroying the remnants of humankind.

In Indonesia, the term herd stupidity comes from epidemiologist Dr. Pandu Riono, Faculty of Public Health, University of Indonesia. He described the government’s and the public’s neglect of the COVID-19 pandemic as being like mutual ignorance that exacerbated the pandemic situation in Indonesia. As a result, the coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia is currently heading for the peak of the second wave.

“Indonesia has long been in a state of ‘herd stupidity.’ Human behavior that encourages viral replication reproduces itself and becomes more infectious. Humans who have the mandate to become officials and other humans who do not behave in 5M (washing hands, wearing a mask, etc.) and are reluctant to be vaccinated.”

tweeted @drpriono1, as quoted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

The South China Morning Post in June wrote that the surge in COVID-19 cases in Indonesia had brought the country’s health system to the brink of collapse. According to experts, the increase in infected cases is due to new variants and a slow vaccination campaign. This opinion was proven correct because Indonesia reported a record 20,574 new cases a few days later on June 24th. This took the official tally since the pandemic began past the 2 million mark. As a result, Indonesia is included in the list of the five countries contributing to the world’s highest Covid-19 cases, surpassing the United States and Great Britain.

Governance and Pandemic Management

None of the government’s policies so far have been effective in suppressing the spread of the coronavirus, including a micro-restrictions system that is continuously being extended. The experts concluded that the following three main elements: the characteristics of the virus, new variants, and the general attitude of the people who tend to ignore health protocols and government instructions further emphasize that the policy roadmap for handling Covid-19 in Indonesia is not leading to “Herd Immunity” but is lost to “herd stupidity.”

According to the analysis of Najmah et al. (insideindonesia.org), the figure below can illustrate how several structural and cultural factors below played a significant role in the failure of handling the pandemic in the archipelagic country:

Figure by insideindonesia.org

Too Early to Celebrate

Indonesia does not have a great track record in handling the pandemic so far. However, according to a BBC report on June 18th, several countries in the Asia Pacific which previously received international praise and awards for successfully handling the pandemic are currently overwhelmed by the outbreak. Such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. Some of these countries were even previously ranked as the best globally, which attracted the admiration of analysts and observers.

The approach of these countries through aggressive actions such as strict lockdown and contact tracing is considered very effective in suppressing the spread of the virus. However, the emergence of a more robust variant combined with premature complacency and loosening of rules since May has fueled an increase in cases in many of these places. As a result, the initially solid defense finally collapsed and was overwhelmed by the massive spread of the virus.

The most severe increase in cases occurred in Taiwan and Vietnam; the BBC called it “now experiencing the full brunt of a Covid wave.” In Taiwan, a slight relaxation of quarantine rules led to rapidly expanding clusters, as highlighted when Taiwan relaxed its quarantine requirements for non-vaccinated airline pilots from an initial 14-day period to five days – and then, just three days. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, the fast-moving new variant has seen multiple clusters spring up, exacerbated by community gatherings.

Furthermore, soon, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games will take place in the Japanese capital between July 23rd and August 8th, and The Paralympic Games are between August 24th and September 5th. Recognizing that cases in Asia are increasing recently and vaccination programs are still prolonged, will this event continue?

The case of Indonesia is a valuable lesson. The only way to win against Covid 19 is to multiply and accelerate vaccinations to as many people as possible to achieve herd immunity. All approaches that have worked very well, such as implementing health protocols, social restrictions, and strict border guarding, must be maintained. Countries in Asia-Pacific should believe that complacency too soon will derail success itself. Facing victory must be wise, wrongly responding to it will actually tarnish our satisfaction. Public health is more important than politics. We are all struggling towards “herd immunity,” once we let our guard down, we get ready to fall into “herd stupidity.”

Today, herd immunity is becoming increasingly unlikely as the world gradually realizes that factors such as vaccine hesitancy, delayed vaccines and emerging variants can derail efforts in pandemic management.

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