Symbols of a pandemic

Photos and text by Toto Santiko Budi

Symbols of a pandemic Photo: Toto Santiko Budi

Accompanying the Covid-19 outbreak in Indonesia, signs and symbols have also spiked and are now everywhere: the letter X, shoeprints, arrows, multicolored lines, face masks and hand-washing signs – a grim reminder of the coronavirus’ toll on the country and world. They, like the virus, are in open space and buildings, from business centers to houses of worship.

If paintings in prehistoric caves depict strategies to hunt animals, so do these modern symbols and signs, so that people always remember to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the outbreak.

President Joko Widodo announced the first two cases of Covid-19 in Indonesia on March 2, debunking claims by other officials that the country would be safe due to its location along the equator and abundance of sunlight. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths, though the numbers are likely far higher due to lack of testing and the view that people are dying of pneumonia rather than from the coronavirus. And the death toll will only grow higher.

Numerous regions including the Indonesian capital Jakarta and the nearby province of Banten (where these photos were taken) have implemented large-scale social restrictions in hopes of “flattening the curve,” which is now a common catchphrase.

Offices, houses of worship, schools, shopping malls and other buildings swing between being open and closed. People are encouraged to work from home, which may help some but is of no help to street vendors and motorcycle taxi drivers who don’t understand the need to wear masks and don’t see the symbols in the slum areas where they live.

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