Coronavirus: Mosques in Jakarta disregard appeals to cancel Friday prayers

Indonesian Muslims praying at a mosque despite official appeals to avoid big religious meetings in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 20, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - A number of mosques in Jakarta have disregarded appeals by Governor Anies Baswedan to cancel Friday prayers for two weeks aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly coronavirus that has so far killed at least 17 people in the capital.

Indonesia has recorded a total of 32 deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with the total number of infections at 369 as of Friday (March 20).

The world's fourth-most populous country announced its first two cases of coronavirus infections on March 2. The government has been widely criticised for not doing enough tests, having carried out only 1,592 of them as of Thursday. In comparison, South Korea has carried out over 290,000 tests.

Two of four mosques in South Jakarta visited by The Straits Times at noon on Friday - including Al-Azhar Great Mosque - were operating as before. However, Al-Azhar, the second-largest mosque in the capital, is only getting about half the usual crowd, according to one of its security officers.

It was full house at the Nurul Yaqin Mosque in Kebalen Road, though, likely due to the closure of the nearby Jami' Nurul Hidayah Mosque, which had complied with the governor's appeal.

Mr Triadi, a hotel security officer who was on his way for Friday prayers at Nurul Yaqin Mosque, told The Straits Times: "Life and death is in God's hands."

Another worshipper Arif Nazib Arifin, 15, told The Straits Times: "Muslims should not be afraid of coronavirus, going to a mosque. If we get infected (at a mosque) and die, we die nobly."

Mr Anies announced on Thursday that Jakarta residents should not hold any gatherings at places of worship. This meant Muslims should not hold Friday prayers, Christians should not hold Sunday masses and the people should not engage in any type of activities that would involve congregating for religious worship.

Mr Anies' stance is in line with the various social distancing measures that President Joko Widodo has taken.

"The risk of infection we can no longer say only at one, two, three, four, five areas (within Jakarta), but it's widespread and can be anywhere… Jakarta is an epicentre. The rate of (infection) growth is among the highest," Mr Anies told a media briefing on Thursday.

He added that at present, cancelling Friday prayers is an appeal, a moral call, and not an order, hinting that stern measures may follow if the residents are not cooperative. Last week, Mr Anies appealed to Muslims to bring along their own personal prayer mat for Friday prayers.

"If you want to keep others safe, to keep yourself safe, act responsibly. Acting responsibly is to stay home, to do prayers at home," he added.

Istiqlal Mosque grand imam Nasaruddin Umar supported Mr Anies' move, saying on Friday morning: "There is enough reason to not hold Friday prayers or any communal prayers, as per Indonesia Ulema Council's edict, if you are in an area where problems are widespread, a virus is spreading."

In Malaysia, all mosques around the country were shut for the first time for the weekly Friday prayers, as part of the 14-day partial lockdown of the country that started on Wednesday.

The government has also enacted tougher border controls.

On Friday, new visa rules restricting foreigners from entering Indonesia kicked in.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has previously announced it would suspend its visa-free and visa-on-arrival arrangements for one month, starting on Friday, as part of its attempts to contain the coronavirus outbreak at home.

Remote video URL

The change requires all foreigners to apply for a visa at Indonesia's overseas missions in accordance with the "intention and purpose of the visits", Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Tuesday.

"When applying for the visa, they must attach a health certificate from health authorities in their respective countries," she added in a statement. The new travel policy will affect all foreigners, whether they are tourists, businessmen or diplomats.

Foreign Ministry acting spokesman Teuku Faizasyah dismissed on Thursday some reports saying Indonesia would lock down its borders, stressing that foreigners may still go to Indonesia, but with stricter requirements.

The ban on the entry into Indonesia and transit only applies to foreign nationals who have in the past 14 days been to Iran and seven countries in Europe: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Vatican City and the United Kingdom.

Foreigners whose travel history shows they visited these countries may be refused entry to Indonesia. Earlier restrictions on travellers from China and South Korea's Daegu city and Gyeongsangbuk-do province are still in force.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.