Indonesia to ban large gatherings on Christmas, New Year's Eve amid rising Covid-19 infections

Indonesian minister Luhut Pandjaitan also said churches could celebrate Christmas with limited numbers of worshippers, to ensure distancing. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - In an effort to address the increasing rate of new Covid-19 infections and with hospital bed occupancy almost at capacity, Indonesia will ban large gatherings during Christmas and New Year's Eve.

"Like it or not, no large crowd is allowed. I ask all provincial governors, please, make sure there is no New Year's Eve crowd," said coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister Luhut Pandjaitan on Tuesday (Dec 15) night.

In the recording of the virtual meeting shared by Mr Luhut's press office with the media, the minister, who is also a close aide to President Joko Widodo, said: "Christmas in churches could be limited to, say 50 people, to keep enough distance... If we do not tighten up restrictions, cases will continue to increase and it will get very bad."

Mr Luhut has been tasked to lead efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the provinces with the highest caseload.

The world's fourth-most populous nation added 6,937 new coronavirus cases between Dec 2 and Dec 8, and 7,780 the week after that.

By comparison, the weekly caseload between mid-September and mid-November fluctuated from 2,700 to 4,500 cases, according to data shown during the virtual meeting.

In the past week, 95 people reportedly died of Covid-19, compared to 55 in the week before last and 50 between Nov 25 and Dec 1.

Meanwhile, 83 of the 98 referral hospitals in Jakarta treating Covid-19 patients reported that, as at Monday, occupancy in their isolation wards had exceeded two-thirds of the total capacity while 62 of them were more than 80 per cent full.

Nineteen referral hospitals reported full occupancy.

This is according to the latest government data obtained by The Straits Times on Wednesday.

"The number of new deaths increased (in provinces with many Covid-19 cases) after a previously observed downward trend," Mr Luhut explained, attributing the swing to a recent five-day-long weekend.

Besides Jakarta, provinces with high caseloads and increasing fatalities include West Java, East Java, Central Java, South Sulawesi and North Sumatra.

Indonesia had a five-day weekend between Oct 28 and Nov 1. Many Jakartans and residents of other major cities went on holiday or to visit family members. This was despite pleas by the authorities for people to stay home.

A mass event also took place in Jakarta on Nov 14, with thousands of mostly maskless supporters of Rizieq Shihab, the detained leader of vigilante group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), gathering in Tanah Abang to ostensibly attend the wedding of his daughter and at the same time commemorate Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

Starting later this week, 75 per cent of the workforce in the Greater Jakarta area - which includes satellite towns Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi - will have to work from home, up from the current 50 per cent.

The exact date this takes effect is left to the provincial governors.

The operating hours of shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment centres in the area will also be further shortened, requiring them to close at 7pm at the latest.

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