Never in modern times has there been such a formidable health threat except the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-1920. At that time, the Spanish Flu killed 50 million people. But now, all of humanity is again in the midst of a terrible threat, namely the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Despite the immensity of the scale, the principles of communication in crisis prevail, now they are even more important.
During this terrible crisis, I was attracted to one of the motto of an international television station, CNN, which highlighted the motto, “In times of crisis, facts matter most”. When faced with an emergency situation, of course we want to know the facts faced in order to understand the true impact and prepare ourselves, then together try to face it.
The differences between facts from one another in situations like this sometimes create confusion. I want to refer to two numbers that show a glimpse of difference, namely the number of victims of COVID-19 according to different government agencies. The official death toll across Indonesia due to COVID-19 from March 2 to April 2 2020 is 170 people. Meanwhile, the number of funerals that use the fixed procedure (Prosedur Tetap, or Protap) COVID-19 in DKI Jakarta is 401 cases (data from DKI Jakarta City Park and Forest Service). Two very different figures and I believe they are facts issued by authorized and competent officials.
So, which numbers should be trusted? Again, I think both are trustworthy, but a link is missing. This can raise doubts. Left unchecked, it will lead to apathy and suspicion that facts are being hidden.
Official figures issued by the Government of Indonesia are sourced from the Ministry of Health. This figure is the number of people who died after testing positive for COVID-19 based on test results by the authorities. We all understand that the test is time consuming. The test takes about a week. Many people already died before the test results came out.
The need for standards
My understanding is that the figures from the DKI Jakarta City Park and Forest Service refer to all those who were buried according to the COVID-19 Protap. Protap was implemented because the person who died was suspected of being exposed to COVID-19, with or without a COVID-19 test. I suspect a similar situation occurs throughout Indonesia, so that those who are buried with the COVID-19 Protap will be several times the number of those who have tested positive.
Maybe it will provide a more accurate picture if the central government data also states the number of those who are suspected of being exposed to COVID-19, but have not been tested. Local government figures also state how many of those buried according to the COVID-19 Protap have tested positive for the disease.
In this way, debates that add to the confusion can be reduced. Many foreign media have questioned the accuracy of the data issued by the Indonesian government. I think the source of the confusion is the one I mentioned above. Both are facts, but one fact is different from another.
In the modern world, standards are absolutely necessary, so that the assessment is more precise and objective. The most obvious example is the measurement of length. By using metric standards, there are definite and clear benchmarks compared, for example, the size of one palm or the length of the stride, which differ from one human to another. Without standards, modern life is inconceivable. Likewise, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, standards are needed in assessing and reporting on existing developments consistently, so as not to provide opportunities for suspicion and hoaxes.
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners
This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 61st Edition, issued on April 2020, page 72.
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