JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian Muslims celebrated a grim Eid al-Adha festival for the second year in a row on Tuesday as the country struggles to cope with a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases and the government has banned large gatherings and toughened up. travel restrictions.
Indonesia is now Asia’s COVID-19 hot spot with the most confirmed daily cases as infections and deaths have risen in the past three weeks and India’s massive outbreak has subsided.
Most of Indonesia’s cases are found on the densely populated island of Java, where more than half of the country’s 270 million people live. Authorities in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation have banned many of the crowd-drawing activities that are often part of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that marks the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Authorities allowed prayers at local mosques in low-risk areas, but elsewhere houses of worship had no congregations, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.
Officials also banned the large crowds that usually fill mosque courtyards to participate in the ritual slaughter of animals for the festival. Religious leaders urged worshipers to pray inside their homes and children were told not to go out to meet friends.
Indonesia’s Health Ministry reported 34,257 new coronavirus cases and 1,338 deaths on Monday, making it the country’s deadliest day since the pandemic began.
COVID-19 infections in Indonesia peaked last week with the highest daily average reported with more than 50,000 new infections each day. As of mid-June, daily cases amounted to about 8,000.
Overall, Indonesia has reported more than 2.9 million cases and 74,920 deaths. In general, those numbers are believed to be a very low count due to little evidence and poor follow-up measures.
The government imposed emergency restrictions on July 3 on the island of Java and the resort island of Bali, limiting all non-essential travel and meetings and closing shopping malls, places of worship and entertainment centers. They were scheduled to end on Tuesday in time for the country to celebrate Eid al-Adha.
But with the wave of infections still spreading, the government’s COVID-19 task force issued a special directive for the holiday week that bans all public travel, community prayers, family visits, and gatherings in Java and Bali, and expanded the measures of closure to 15 cities and districts outside the two islands that have seen sharp increases in COVID-19 cases.
President Joko Widodo called on Muslims to perform Eid prayers and recitation of God is excellent at home with their families.
“In the midst of the current pandemic, we must be willing to sacrifice even more,” Widodo said in televised remarks on the eve of Eid. “Sacrificing personal interests and putting the interests of the community and others first,” he said.
Police set up road checkpoints and blocked main roads for non-essential vehicles. Domestic flights and other means of transportation were suspended, preventing people from making traditional family visits.
“This is unfair … but we must follow it for the sake of people’s safety,” said Eka Cahya Pratama, an official in the capital Jakarta. He said he has lost many family members to COVID-19, including his aunt and two uncles.
“I feel really sad, I really miss you on Eid day,” he said.
Indonesia’s current wave was fueled by travel during the Eid al-Fitr festival in May and by the rapid spread of the most contagious delta variant that emerged in India. Hospitals are saturated and oxygen supplies are running low, with increasing numbers of sick people dying in isolation at home or while waiting for emergency care.
With the healthcare system struggling to cope, even patients fortunate enough to get a hospital bed are not guaranteed oxygen.
Other Asian countries are also struggling to contain the rapid rise in infections amid slow vaccination campaigns and the spread of the delta variant. Among them are Muslim-majority places like Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the four southernmost provinces of Thailand.
Unlike Indonesia’s restrictions, Bangladesh controversially paused its coronavirus lockdown for eight days to mark Eid al-Adha, and its millions of people are shopping and traveling this week, raising fears that the holidays will cause a surge in virus that will collapse your already distressed healthcare. system.
Malaysia has also struggled to control its outbreak, which has worsened despite being under lockdown since June 1. The total number of cases has soared 62% since June 1 to more than 927,000. Hospitals, especially in Selangor state, have been overwhelmed, and some patients were reportedly treated on the floor due to lack of beds and bodies piled up in morgues. However, vaccines have increased and almost 15% of the population is fully inoculated.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urged Muslims to stay home and celebrate the holiday in modesty. “I ask everyone to be patient and follow the rules because their sacrifice is a great jihad in the eyes of Allah and in our effort to save lives,” he said in a televised speech on the eve of the festival.
Indonesia began to vaccinate aggressively before many countries in Southeast Asia. About 14% of its population received at least one dose, mainly Sinovac from China. But that can leave them susceptible, as Sinovac may be less effective against the delta variant. Both Indonesia and Thailand are planning booster shots of other vaccines for their health workers immunized with Sinovac.
In Indonesia, land continues to be cleared for the dead, as daily burials in cemeteries dedicated to COVID-19 victims have increased tenfold since May in Jakarta alone, according to government data.
Families wait turns to bury their loved ones while gravediggers work late. Last year, Indonesia’s highest Islamic clerical body issued a decree allowing mass graves, normally prohibited in Islam, during the pandemic.
Associated Press writer Victoria Milko contributed to this report.