At the time of writing, Indonesia is experiencing a huge increase in the number of COVID-19 patients. Outside of Jakarta, most victims are in Kalimantan, the Riou Archipelago (province of Sumatra) and West Papua. A third of the performed tests are positive. Even 40% in the case of West Papua. The Papuans lack manpower, hospitals and medicines to cope with the increase. According to The Guardian, only 1% of doctors and nurses who specialize in dealing with COVID-19 (1,787 in total) work outside the island of Java. Papua is in a lockdown that will last the whole month of August.

Theo van den Broek (74), Hapin advisor and civil society consultant in Papua, lives and works in Jayapura. He tells firsthand how COVID-19 is currently spreading.

“Yesterday we heard a siren. Apparently a hearse. Not something we daily see here. And again, the same alarming sound. Jayapura has more than 10 victims every day out of a population of 300,000 inhabitants. Apparently the virus is aggressively spreading its arms and people are unprepared for it.

A dramatic opening of this column, but not outside of reality. In recent weeks, partly due to a lack of civil compliance with regard to medical protocols, COVID-19 has been able to impose itself enormously in Indonesia and Papua. The health system is not prepared for this challenge. The hospitals are full and there is a lack of oxygen and ventilators, among other things. The medical staff is very limited in number and dozens are in quarantine due to the virus themselves.

The vaccination program, which has been taking place slowly for several months, has so far only reached 6% of the population. These are mainly non-natives. Many Papuans are not interested in the vaccination. They don’t trust it, also because of misleading news surrounding us. Many also hardly feel threatened. Vaccination avoidance is a complex result of the confusing and victim-demanding political situation in which trust in government has slowly eroded. “Of course you shouldn’t deploy an army here to vaccinate,” Reverend Benny Giay recently sighed.

Jayapura city council announced a list of new rules today. Mobility must be reduced by 50%, restaurants will be closed and no physical meetings are allowed. Everything is done digitally, via ‘Zoom’. But people don’t like that: they want to see each other, chew some pinang or smoke a sigaret together. Tough times for everyone!”

Theo vd Broek | Hapin