Sao Paulo, Istanbul, Peking, Bangkok The needle of the vaccination syringe stuck in the upper arm of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo for nine seconds. For this moment, which initiated the start of the coronavirus vaccination campaign in the Southeast Asian island nation on Wednesday, Indonesian TV channels even interrupted their current programs.
“It doesn’t hurt at all,” said the President with a smile. An employee demonstratively held up the packaging with the logo of the Chinese vaccine manufacturer Sinovac, which is one of Indonesia’s main suppliers. The main message was written behind Widodo on a banner in capital letters: “Safe and halal” is the promise.
A similar picture emerged in Turkey on the same day. The Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca was the first citizen of the country to be vaccinated with the CoronaVac vaccine developed in China. Broadcast live on Turkish television. This was preceded by a 14-day security test by the Turkish authorities. “I always said there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” Koca said after the vaccination.
Dthe doctor who administered the injection was visibly nervous. With trembling hands he put the needle into the upper arm of the Indonesian president. Joko Widodo was the first in the Southeast Asian country to get the Coronavac vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech on Wednesday. He wanted to send a signal that the vaccine from China is safe. Recently, there had been confusion about the Chinese vaccine, as different test runs in several countries had come to extremely different results about its effectiveness.
With his commitment, the President gave the go-ahead for one of the largest vaccination campaigns in the world. With a population of 268 million, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country on earth. The government hopes to vaccinate 181.5 million people against the coronavirus and thereby achieve herd immunity. She sees this as the way out of the health and economic crisis. Indonesia is by far the country with the most corona cases in Southeast Asia. On Wednesday, a high of 11,278 new infections was recorded again, the total number of those already infected thus reached more than 858,000.
While there is skepticism in Europe about vaccines from China, Indonesia secured access to Coronavac at an early stage. On Monday, the national drug agency issued emergency approval for the vaccine. Of the three million doses already delivered, 1.2 million were distributed in the provinces at the start of the vaccination. Indonesia is now the first country outside of China to use the vaccine to immunize large sections of the population. Observers fear that in view of the geopolitical power competition, China could secure additional influence in the country with its vaccination diplomacy.
Indonesia is one of the states that are not in direct conflict with China, but that are certainly given headaches by Chinese ambitions for power. For China, the start of the vaccination in Indonesia is therefore a great diplomatic success, which it can now refer to to potential other interested parties in the future. It was no coincidence that Widodo also received Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in his presidential palace on the day of his vaccination.
The economy should be brought back to operating temperature
Another special feature is Indonesia’s strategy of not vaccinating the elderly and particularly vulnerable people, as is the case in most other countries, but rather people of working age between 18 and 59 years. The government is betting that the economy can be brought back to operating temperature more quickly. In addition, there is still not enough data on how safe the vaccine is, especially for older people, and how long they are protected against. At 59, President Widodo was barely qualified for the vaccination.
His doctor Abdul Muthalib later admitted to journalists that he was actually a little excited when he put the injection. In the coming weeks, 1.4 million people from the health and care sector are to be vaccinated, after which it is the turn of the authorities’ employees. The other vaccinations should then be given within 15 months. This is a pretty ambitious plan, if only because of the logistical challenges in the state, which consists of more than 17,000 islands.
IThe corpse of the deserving employee was taken to the town hall in an ambulance. Jakarta’s Governor Anies Baswedan and his team had gathered on the stairs in front of the building to give final escort to Jakarta’s long-time regional secretary, Saefullah. The 56-year-old official died last week as a result of Covid-19. His coffin remained in the locked vehicle during the ceremony because of the risk of infection. But the governor did not want to miss the farewell. Saefullah played an important role in the fight against the pandemic, Anies Baswedan told the FAZ. “He worked tirelessly behind the scenes until the bitter end and had never intended to give up.”
The collapse of the Indonesian health system
The death of Secretary Saefullah is one of the best-known examples of how the Indonesian pandemic is particularly hard to hit those on the front lines against the coronavirus. Meanwhile, three ministers from President Joko Widodo’s cabinet have contracted Covid-19, most recently the minister of religion. Some ministries, including the Ministry of Health, are among the largest corona clusters. The staff in the hospitals and health stations fare even worse than the politicians. More than 230 doctors and nurses have fallen victim to the pandemic since March. The collapse of the Indonesian health system is predicted by the end of the year.
After the Philippines, Indonesia is the most infected country in Southeast Asia. According to the authorities, 4,823 cases were added on Friday. It was the third day in a row with a record increase. The total number of those who tested positive reached 266,845, those of the dead 10,218. That is more deaths than in any other country in Southeast Asia. The number of unreported cases is likely to be high. The test rate in Indonesia is among the lowest in the world. The extremely increased workload of the gravedigger is an indication of how high the excess mortality actually is. In Jakarta, the number of funerals is higher than it has been in ten years.
The capital is the center of the pandemic, with a quarter of the cases. The most important hospitals are full and have waiting lists for corona patients. The governor imposed a lockdown in mid-September and has now extended it for another two weeks. Anies Baswedan speaks of an “emergency brake”: “I am concerned about the rapid increase in cases over the past few weeks and the difficulties faced by the institutions of the health system in terms of the lack of beds and staffing levels.” He feared that the consequences would have spread like an avalanche if it had not restricted people’s freedom of movement at an early stage.