Expert Opinion

Urgent Need to Strengthen State Capacity: Learning from Indonesia’s COVID-19 Crisis

Yanuar Nugroho and Siwage Dharma Negara

Unlike other populous democratic countries like India and the Philippines, Indonesia did not implement a full lockdown to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguably, the government was concerned about difficulties in imposing stringent lockdowns, which would have to be extended several times and which would be very costly for the country.

From the beginning of the pandemic, there had been a contentious debate about whether a lockdown, which would cost the government a lot of money, resources, and even political risks, would make much difference in reducing infection numbers. Moreover, the government’s awareness that it lacks the capacity where the healthcare system and the bureaucracy were concerned, forced it to implement a relaxed policy.

Despite the government’s claim that it has managed to ‘flatten the curve’ by early May, Indonesia has the highest number of COVID-19 fatalities in Asia, with a 6-7 percent death rate among total confirmed cases. Notwithstanding, the figures are perceived to be significantly underreported as the official data did not include deaths of patients suspected to have coronavirus and who were still awaiting tests.

Certainly, many factors have been at play, but this reality indicates the country’s lack of hard and soft public health infrastructure to deal with the crisis.


  • The Indonesian government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been generally viewed as slow and cumbersome, in terms of promulgating necessary policies and executing them to mitigate the crisis’s impact on public health and the economy.
  • Current regulatory and institutional frameworks have been proven to be inadequate to address the immediate risks posed by COVID-19 on public health and longer-term socio-economic consequences.
  • Poor data collection and weak information management processes have severely hampered crisis response in the public health sector and hindered the delivery of social
    protection programmes.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is an urgent wake-up call for the Indonesian government to formulate coherent strategies and ramp up the state`s capacity to handle the current crisis and improve preparedness for likely contingencies in the likely “new normal”.
  • This will be a massive undertaking, requiring comprehensive overhaul of administrative structures and decision-making processes, quick mobilisation of resources (particularly in the public health sector), more effective communications and a new culture of discipline and accountability in the civil service.

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