Top Indonesian religious official urges Muslims not to travel for Hari Raya Haji as Covid-19 deaths soar

Travel after the Muslim fasting month in May was partly blamed for igniting the outbreak. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Indonesia's Religious Affairs Minister has advised Muslims not to travel on Hari Raya Haji next Tuesday (July 20) as the country reported its deadliest day so far in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Officials recorded 1,025 deaths on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to more than 71,000 so far.

The total number of infections stood at 2,780,803, including 54,000 on Friday.

Indonesia, which surpassed India in the number of daily cases earlier this week, is the world's most populous Muslim country and is now struggling to cope with a fresh wave of Covid-19 largely triggered by widespread travel during Hari Raya Aidilfitri in May.

Next week, Muslims mark another important day on their calendar with prayers and the korban ritual, which involves slaughtering livestock and distributing the meat to the poor.

Mass prayers in high-risk zones have been suspended for the second year in a row. The public has also been advised not to crowd around sites for the ritual slaughtering.

Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas on Friday urged Muslims in the sprawling archipelago not to return to their hometowns.

"We ask the public to be patient and not to go home for (Hari Raya Haji) this year. Protect yourself, your family and those around us from the dangers of the Covid-19 virus," he said in a statement.

Medical facilities in the country are stretched thin, and demand for oxygen and medication has also soared. Scores of people are isolating themselves at home and self-medicating, which has led to the prices of drugs skyrocketing in pharmacies and online.

The health ministry has since moved to cap the prices of drugs such as favipiravir, remdesivir and ivermectin.

The government on Thursday began distributing free medicine and vitamins to self-isolating Covid-19 patients in high-risk areas.

In a broadcast via YouTube, President Joko Widodo said that 300,000 packages would be distributed for a start to those in the worst-hit islands of Java and Bali, with another similar number elsewhere.

Each package will have seven days' worth of therapeutic Covid-19 drugs and vitamins, and will be given to asymptomatic patients as well as those with mild to moderate symptoms including fever and dry cough. The medication for the latter group will require consultation with a doctor and a prescription.

Mr Widodo has ordered strict supervision for the distribution of the free care packages which will be led by military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto.

"This programme must not disrupt the availability of essential drugs for Covid-19 treatment in pharmacies and hospitals," the President said.

Food vendor Dini Wahyuni, 51, said she spent a day checking out pharmacy shelves in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, for the antiviral drug, fluvir, for her brother, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 and is isolating at home.

"My teenage son and I rode our motorcycle around town for the entire day to look for antiviral pills, and found nothing. I felt so hopeless. From morning till dark, I visited all the chemists in my town to ask, but no luck," she told The Straits Times.

Ms Dini, who just recovered from the disease, said she was feeling quite weak but had "no choice".

She said she was very worried about her brother, who also has hypertension and heart problems. She has given him the medicine meant for another sister who was also infected with the coronavirus.

"I was scared that he couldn't survive without the medicine," she said.

A senior minister said on Thursday said that the country was already grappling with "our worst-case scenario".

"If we're talking about 60,000 (daily cases) or slightly more than that, we're okay. We are hoping not for 100,000, but even if we get there, we are preparing for that," said Mr Luhut Pandjaitan.

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