The pandemic situation in Indonesia has continued to worsen over the past few months, but for me it’s even more terrifying because one person in my family has been adamantly refusing to comply with health protocols.
For some time, my dad has become a member of that infuriating tribe of people who do not believe in the danger of COVID19 and pandemic. He has been actively consuming conspiracy theories and all sorts of hoaxes from a WhatsApp group of like-minded people.
To him, there is no such thing as COVID-19, even when one of our neighbors died after contracting virus. It was all just fabrication, he said accusing health workers of making up the cause of the death. The government, he added, has been deceiving us, while benefiting from the pandemic (God knows how).
The thing is he lives with my comorbid mom, who is extremely frightened by the respiratory illness and the death risks that she would face should she contract the coronavirus.
Unfortunately, my parents and I live in separate islands, so I can’t really be there to persuade my dad and show him the face of the pandemic: collapsed hospitals, burned-out health workers, and devastated survivors of those who died from the virus.
My parents live in a small town in Sumatra where talking about COVID-19 infection is regarded as taboo. The majority of people there believe that "you'll die when it's time for you to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it." Even if this sentiment is partly right, it ignores the fact that there are scientifically proven things we can do to prolong our lifespan.
One night, I braced myself to call my dad in hopes of having a lighthearted and fruitful dad-and-daughter conversation regarding the elephant in the room. It was a failure, resulting in a two-week “cold war” in which we waged a “talk-strike.”
Here is a glimpse of the depressing conversation:
Me : "I know it’s awful to wear the mask all the time, that's why I don't ask you to so. Do it only if you interact with others in a closed-door meeting or a crowded scene, what about it?"
Dad : "Yeah, I don't think the virus can transport in the air, if it is, then all of us would just instantly die".
Here’s the problem with what he said: First, my dad does not believe that coronavirus, just like the common flu virus, can infect a person through airborne transmission, hence the social-distancing and mask-wearing requirement. Second, he believes that everybody who has contracted COVID-19 will end up dead, regardless the evidence that many, especially with no comorbid conditions, have actually survived the virus.
He continued, "What I can barely process is that those who had congenital diseases like heart disease and high blood pressure were declared to have died of COVID-19, when they clearly had health issues prior to their deaths.”
I was speechless. I do not know what WhatsApp group he belongs to and whether he had ever read information on the virus from a reliable source, because what he was referring to was mere basic information. People who have serious health problems, including heart or lung conditions, are at higher risks of developing fatal symptoms of COVID-19.
I was angry, sad, and anxious at the same time knowing that my dad's ignorance could put my family at risk of being infected with the dreaded virus. Still, I am lucky that all my family members have so far been safe from the calamity that have taken millions of lives. Many have not been so lucky.
On July 17, Helmi Indra who lives in Depok, West Java, shared the devastating story of his father who succumbed to the illness, and could have been saved had he not been exposed to fake news.
"My dad bought into the hoax that vaccine was haram, although the Indonesian Ulema Council stated otherwise," Helmi said, adding that his sixty-something father had comorbid conditions.
On top of that, the poor old man also believed that the reason why many COVID-19 patients died was because they had consumed too many medicines, statement that was spread by someone claiming to be a doctor and that has been quickly debunked.
"When my father was tested positive for COVID-19, he refused to take his medicines," said Helmi, whose father eventually died due to the respiratory illness.
I hope there will be no more stories like this. I hope people would question and cross-check every single information they find on the disease and seek information only from reliable sources. They must stop putting themselves and people around them at risk.
Ilustrasi oleh Karina Tungari