Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, celebrates the end of Ramadan this Saturday with concern at a critical moment due to the increase in cases of COVID-19 and the lack of monitoring of physical distancing measures in some cities.
The authorities have banned the traditional trips that Indonesians make to their homes on these dates, except with special permits, and promote physical distancing to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, which has caused at least 20,700 infections and 1,326 deaths.
However, in recent days videos have been seen on social networks with crowds of people buying gifts for their relatives in shopping malls, a tradition at the End of the Fast Festival (Aíd al Fitr, in Arabic, or Lebaran, in Indonesian ).
“This is a very critical moment for us,” Doni Monardo, head of the special committee against COVID-19, said Wednesday, according to The Jakarta Globe newspaper.
Doni warned that some Indonesians have bypassed the travel ban on these dates, which poses a risk of new infections.
In the past week, Indonesia has recorded the largest daily increase in cases of the new coronavirus, with 973 detected only on Wednesday.
The end of Ramadan, the holy month of Muslim fasting, is the most important holiday in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world with some 267 million inhabitants spread across 17,000 islands.
More than half of Indonesians live on the western island of Java, where the capital Jakarta is located and the epicenter of COVID-19 in this archipelago located in Southeast Asia.
In a country where religion is of great social and political importance, the authorities have been very cautious about prohibiting prayer in mosques, depending more on religious groups or local authorities.
“The Government does not prohibit prayer, but urges all religious communities to increase the quantity and quality of their prayers. What we ask for, what we are regulating, is that the prayer be carried out in accordance with health protocols. “Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in a recent message on his website.
The president has also called for families to contact each other virtually to respect physical estrangement, and even several ministers appeared in a music video asking Indonesians not to travel to celebrate Aid al Fitr.
Even the largest Indonesian Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, asked the faithful not to travel to their villages for the End of the Fast and to pray at home, rather than at the mosque.
However, local analysts have warned that some Indonesians are likely to bypass the ban and lead to further outbreaks of the coronavirus.
Indonesia was one of the last countries in the region to recognize that it had COVID-19 cases and, while it closed its borders and implemented some measures such as the requirement to wear face masks on the street and the closure of schools, it has not taken any further measures. strict confinement.
The main outbreaks of COVID-19 appeared in February and March in Java, but also in other places such as the island of Celebes, where the coronavirus spread among 8,700 pilgrims arriving for a religious event that was finally canceled.
In the first weeks of the pandemic, some local communities began to impose their own physical distancing measures.
In April, the Government approved a series of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB, which stands for Indonesian), which are applied in the most affected municipalities and regions that request it, such as Jakarta, Pekanbaru on the island of Sumatra or Makassar in Celebes, among others.
The Government has recognized that the reason for not applying stricter measures is its logistical and financial inability to face the consequences of a stoppage of economic and commercial activity.
Experts wonder how it was possible that Indonesia, with the lack of forceful containment measures, has escaped the worst of COVID-19, especially compared to other countries in Europe and America.
However, they also warn that there is still a risk of an uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus that will collapse the country’s limited health infrastructure, which has conducted few tests for coronavirus (858 per million inhabitants).