• Dr. Peter Darmawan

When Will the Pandemic End?

Updated: May 16, 2020

In the last eight weeks, large sections of the world's economy have been shut down, literally ravaged by the coronavirus. Businesses and people with jobs which are deemed non-essential are suddenly told to stop and this has rendered many people to be without work, thus no source of income. The economic downturn was felt everywhere, including here, in Bandung. We are all anxious to return to some form of normalcy. But when is it safe to do so?

Health experts have indicated a few indicators that must be met to begin opening non-essential businesses safely: rates of new cases should be low and falling for at least two weeks; hospitals should have enough capacity to treat all coronavirus patients in need, and there should be enough provisions to test everyone with symptoms.

By now, we should all be familiar with the common symptoms for the coronavirus, which are: a high fever, shortness of breath and a new continuous cough that lasts for more than an hour (source: WHO). Interestingly, some of the less common symptoms include loss of taste and smell. George Stephanopoulos, ABC News chief anchor once shared on a late-night talk show that the loss of smell was so severe that he was not able to smell the perfume that he sprayed.

Out of the three indicators that must be met before it is safe to resume some form of normalcy, the one indicator that we can monitor on our own is probably the rate of new cases in our country. I monitor this closely each day by using a chart that is developed by Mr Aatish Bahtia in collaboration with Minute Physics. The data used for this project comes from Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Due to the time difference, the data for Indonesia will only be updated one day after.

A detailed explanation on the chart that Mr Bahtia developed can be found in the video below.

What we are more interested in is perhaps the chart for Indonesia and our neighbouring countries for comparison. Shown below is the data that was taken on 15 May 2020. Please note that we are using a logarithmic scale on both the x and y axes. This means that each horizontal and vertical lines increases by tens, hundreds, thousands and so on. Each dot on the chart denotes each passing day.

What is clear from the chart is that from 13 to 19 March 2020, the number of new confirmed cases in Indonesia is quite alarming, with the number of cases doubling every two days. The rate of transmission slowed down a little after 19 March, but it is still showing an upward trend. On 17 April, the rate of new cases started to plateau, which means that the number of new cases is more or less the same on each day. This is one week after the partial lockdown is announced in Jakarta. We were all praying that it will continue downward after the levelling-off period. Unfortunately, on 2 May it started to inch its way upwards again. In fact, more recently, the number of confirmed new cases in one day can reach as many as 689 (Data for 13 May 2020, Ministry of Health - Kemenkes official twitter account).

Let us look at the trajectory of the confirmed cases in the neighbouring countries in south-east Asia.

Screenshot taken from Aatish Bhatia's project in collaboration with Minute Physics.

What is interesting to note from the above chart is that some countries have started towards recovery. This is characterised with the trajectory coming downward. In fact, Vietnam's response to the pandemic is laudable and the country has averted economic recession that is now affecting many countries around the world. Since 5 May 2020, Vietnam has resumed schools and economic activities and not surprisingly, there is a rebound in the number of new cases although it is still small and manageable. Other countries that are heading towards recovery in the graph are Thailand and Malaysia, with Singapore likely to follow soon. In fact, 32 countries around the world are currently beating the coronavirus (MSNBC report), but Indonesia is still far off from recovery.

Recall that one of the requirements for reopening the economy is that the rates of new cases should be low and falling for at least two weeks. From the chart shown above, it is clear that Indonesia has not met the requirement. Rate of transmission on a daily basis is still high, averaging at 483.4 cases in the last 7 days. Moreover, it has not even shown a downward trend toward recovery.

So the answer to when will this pandemic end in Indonesia? The answer is, it will not end so soon, although President Jokowi has set a target for the end of May for the first downward trajectory towards recovery (Detik News). The only way we can shorten the dreaded wait to go back to the old normal is when every single person in Indonesia work together to implement the safety and social distancing measures.

Other images used in this post are taken from Unsplash.

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