Coronavirus: Muslim group in Indonesia in close contact with infected patients moved to quarantine ward

Indonesian Muslims pray at a mosque after an official discouragement of big religious meetings during the coronavirus outbreak, in Tasikmalaya, West Java Province, Indonesia, on March 20, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesian armed forces were progressively moving more than 200 Muslim worshippers - half of them are foreigners - from a mosque in West Jakarta to the country's largest quarantine centre, the Wisma Atlet in North Jakarta, in a pre-emptive move to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The more than 200 Muslim worshippers were in close contact with three fellow Muslims during Friday prayers at Jami mosque on March 20 who later tested positive for coronavirus. The authorities began moving the group of more than 200 Muslims on Saturday night (March 28). The group has been in isolation at the West Jakarta mosque since March 26.

As of 4pm Jakarta time (5pm Singapore time) on Sunday, there were still Muslim worshippers who remained at the mosque awaiting evacuation, Jakarta-based Elshinta Radio reported.

Comprising 106 Indonesian nationals and 102 foreigners, they were part of a group that had travelled to attended a large Muslim Tabligh gathering, state news agency Antara reported, citing chief of Jakarta military command Brig-Gen M. Saleh on Saturday night.

Tabligh is formally known as Tablighi Jama'at, a global movement of evangelical Muslims that promotes proselytising, known as dakwah. On March 18, more than 8,000 Tabligh members arrived in Gowa in Indonesian province of South Sulawesi to attend the gathering that had been slated to take place the following day.

More than 400 of them were from the region and countries as far as Saudi Arabia, and among the largest groups of foreign Muslims were those from Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan. None of them was from Singapore, according to the authorities.

The gathering was cancelled at the last minute following appeals from the authorities, amid fears of the spread of coronavirus. The pilgrims then made their way home via the airport and seaports in Makassar on March 19, through Jakarta.

Three of the Muslims - one from North Sumatra and two from Aceh province - who joined Friday prayers on March 20 at Jami mosque in West Jakarta tested positive for coronavirus and were rushed to the Wisma Atlet quarantine centre earlier, Antara reported without giving a date. The 10-tower Wisma Atlet was built for participating athletes in the 2018 Asian Games, which Jakarta co-hosted with Palembang, South Sumatra.

Some of the towers have been converted into quarantine wards for patients with mild to moderate coronavirus symptoms as well as for people who might have been in close contact with infected patients.

Five of the 102 foreign nationals went back to their home territory, Palestine, Antara cited Brig-Gen Saleh as saying, who did not elaborate.

Indonesia has appealed to its citizens to avoid crowds and to work, study and pray at home. On March 19, Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan appealed to Muslims to cancel Friday prayers for two weeks but many mosques disregarded the appeal.

The world's fourth-most populous country announced its first two cases of coronavirus infections on March 2, and the number has risen to 1,285 as of Sunday (March 29), an increase of 130 from Saturday.

Its Covid-19 fatalities also rose by 12 to 114, the highest in South-east Asia. Sixty-four patients have recovered.

At a regular briefing on Sunday, the official spokesman on the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Achmad Yurianto, said: "The continued increase in the number of confirmed cases signals there are those who are infected that have not self-isolated."

But he acknowledged there has been improved compliance among Indonesians in practicing social distancing, expressing his appreciation.

Meanwhile, Jakarta has continued to deploy drones and trucks to spray disinfectants across parts of the capital on Sunday. The spraying teams are covering 11 points across Jakarta on Sunday, working from 7am to 3pm local time.

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