Coronavirus pandemic

Indonesians brave the crowds for festive shopping

In Indonesia, the government is facing an uphill task to make sure people comply with large-scale social distancing measures with many saying that it is God’s wish whether they get contract the coronavirus.
Tanah Abang market (above) in central Jakarta is among many that have been teeming with shoppers ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri on Sunday.
Tanah Abang market (above) in central Jakarta is among many that have been teeming with shoppers ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesians packed shops and malls across the country with just days to go before Hari Raya Aidilfitri, braving the crowds and the coronavirus threat to buy festive essentials.

This is despite the fact that Indonesia has the most Covid-19 fatalities in South-east Asia, with the tally reaching 1,278 yesterday. The number of people confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, was more than 20,000.

Popular markets, such as the one in Tanah Abang in central Jakarta, were teeming with shoppers keen on getting new clothes for their children for the festive occasion known here as Lebaran.

"What would our kids say if we didn't buy them Lebaran clothes? It's OK if adults don't get new clothes. I am here for the kids," Ms Wiwiek, a mother of five boys, who goes by one name, told The Straits Times at the Tanah Abang market.

Another shopper, a 65-year-old woman, when asked if she was worried about contracting the coronavirus, replied: "I leave it to God." She was looking for clothes for her two grandsons.

The crowds were apparent not only in Jakarta, as video clips have been circulating on social media showing similar scenes across the vast archipelago of over 270 million people.

In Pekalongan, Central Java, a netizen posted a one-minute clip showing rows of parked motorcycles that took up at least half of the road in front of the Matahari shopping mall at the weekend. Shoppers were seen queueing up at the mall's main entrance.

The netizen, a local resident, noted that the scene was no different from that in previous years just before Lebaran. She said sarcastically in the clip: "Let's celebrate now. Think about coronavirus later."

Meanwhile on Monday, the local authorities were forced to close the Sentra Grosir Cikarang shopping mall in Bekasi, West Java, after thousands of shoppers descended on the area.

Indonesia has imposed restrictions to contain the coronavirus, including banning mudik - the annual exodus to home towns to celebrate Lebaran - and ordering all non-essential shops in Jakarta, the worst-hit city, to close.

But shoppers are not the only ones flouting these rules. Many Indonesians have been forced to ignore social distancing measures just to put food on the table.

"How can we stop working? Our family is not getting (the government's essential aid package)," said Ms Fatimah, a 32-year-old roadside watch-seller, who also goes by one name. "My husband is ill. He just had a heart attack (in January). If I don't work, what will our children eat?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2020, with the headline 'Indonesians brave the crowds for festive shopping'. Print Edition | Subscribe