The Corona virus is now dawning on the world’s largest Muslim population in Indonesia. Indonesia now has the third most fatalities in Asia after China and South Korea.

The Pacific nation is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 because of the social intimacy that goes along with mass prayers held five times a day for the faithful and the way extended families interact on a daily basis.

The government’s entreaties for Indonesians to practice “social distancing” is a concept many have found difficult to grasp as the virus spreads across the archipelago through community transmission, bringing an unusually high rate of deaths in its wake.

Confirmed Covid-19 infections in Indonesia hit 514 on Sunday (March 22), second to Malaysia among Southeast Asian nations.

Achmad Yurianto, the government’s spokesman for Corona-virus updates, announced ten more virus deaths on Sunday, taking the toll to 48.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security put Indonesia’s mortality rate at more than 8%, the highest in the world ahead of even more widely infected Italy, Iran, China, Japan and Spain.

The Indonesian government also has to deal with the unpredictable behavior of its people, with some going to considerable lengths to protect themselves from the virus while others seem unconcerned.

Despite President Joko Widodo urging people to “work at home, study at home and pray at home,” many affluent Indonesians took that as an invitation last weekend to flock to Jakarta’s Ancol beach and the popular mountain resort of Puncak, south of the capital.

With a lock down still not on the cards, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has declared a state of emergency for the next fortnight, urging the closure of all non-essential businesses, limiting public transport and temporarily shutting all bars, spas, movie theaters and other entertainment places.

In Jakarta, where 70% of the deaths and 60% of overall cases have been reported, went further than the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) and sought to ban all religious gatherings for the next two weeks, including Friday prayers and Sunday church services.

Many of Jakarta’s mosques appeared to comply with the ban. In the devout East Jakarta district of Kramat Jati, for example, the call to prayer over one mosque’s loudspeaker was followed by a stern instruction to stay at home to pray.

Reluctant to order more draconian measures because of their potential social and economic impact, Widodo has now directed an all-out rapid-testing campaign that experts have long said is the only way to tell how far the pandemic has spread in this archipelago population of 273 million.

Indonesia has about 900,000 to one million Mosques, many of which are community gathering points as much as a focus of religious devotion. Churches and temples serve a similar purpose, especially where devotees are in the minority.

Vulnerable older people, many with underlying health issues, will not be able to self-isolate when they already live in close quarters with their children and often their grandchildren in over-crowded areas of Jakarta and other large cities.

Their reluctance to shut down was all the more astonishing when a similar gathering of 16,000 Islamic missionaries near Kuala Lumpur two weeks earlier has been traced to half of the 900 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Malaysia; Indonesians made up a large chunk of the 1,500 foreign attendees.

Indonesia’s Christians have been equally guilty of lapses in Covid-19 related judgement. On the day the Makassar event was called off, 1,500 Indonesian Catholics assembled in a cathedral in Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara for a long-planned ordination of a new bishop.

Taking in the islands of Flores and Sumba and the western half of Timor island, East Nusa Tenggara is one of 22 of 34 provinces which says it is still free of the virus, a claim that in the absence of any systematic testing looks increasingly threadbare.

Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.

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