JAKARTA: Officials in hazmat suits paraded empty coffins through the streets of Jakarta on Tuesday (Sep 1) to remind residents that coronavirus cases are still surging in one of Asia’s worst-hit nations.
A convoy of truck hearses and pallbearers snaked its way through crowded neighbourhoods, with some participants also donning headpieces depicting ghost-like figures known as pocong.
“We’re hoping this coffin parade will remind people to be more aware of the risk of disobeying health safety rules,” said Mundari, the head of south Jakarta’s Cilandak district, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
“They can picture how things would be if they died of COVID-19,” he added.
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The mock coffins got the attention of Cilandak resident Ahmad Soleh Suzany.
“It’s very scary because this shows the huge dangers we’re facing,” he told AFP.
The move comes as Indonesia’s coronavirus toll mounts, with the deadly respiratory disease killing more than 100 frontline doctors and possibly hundreds of children.
The world’s fourth most populous nation has reported over 177,000 confirmed cases and 7,505 deaths, but with some of the world’s lowest testing rates the true scale is widely believed to be much greater.
Hospital ICU units are straining to keep up in the archipelago of nearly 270 million, where the government has been sharply criticised for its response, including officials touting herbal and other unproven cures.
Indonesia relaxed movement restrictions in July to head off a collapse of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
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Authorities are fining people for not wearing masks or failing to practise social distancing, but it’s not enough.
“So besides sanctions we’re trying to raise awareness,” Cilandak district’s Mundari said.
“This helps to convey the message. It’s our way of trying to maximise the spread of information.”
This is not the first time Indonesia has turned to unconventional methods to get the word out about the dangers of coronavirus.
Earlier this year, a conservative region in the Muslim-majority nation forced social distancing violators to recite Koranic verses, while another made offenders wear placards admitting their infraction.
Java’s Sragen regency tossed offenders into repurposed abandoned houses that local residents believe are haunted as it tapped widespread beliefs in the supernatural, which play a key role in Indonesian folklore.
The country’s medical association applauded the “creative” coffin parade.
“We appreciate efforts to educate and spread information in different ways so the public’s crisis awareness stays high,” said association spokesman Halik Malik.
“This kind of thing leaves an impression.”