Indonesia Records Second Highest COVID-19 Death Toll in Asia

Ronna Nirmala
200402-ID-prisoners-1000.JPG An Indonesian security officer waves to inmates in Depok, near Jakarta, as they were released to avoid a surge in coronavirus infections in overcrowded prisons, April 2, 2020.

Indonesia, with 170 fatalities, surpassed South Korea on Thursday as the Asian country with the second highest death toll from COVID-19 as Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said his government would not prevent people from traveling to their hometowns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr amid the pandemic.

Jokowi’s statement came as prison authorities announced on Thursday that 18,000 inmates had been released to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the nation’s overcrowded prison system.

“I want to encourage participation at the community level … so that revellers who come from greater Jakarta can self-isolate (in their hometowns),” Jokowi said at a cabinet meeting.

The government was considering granting more holidays in the future to compensate for people’s inability to celebrate Eid, he said.

Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim festival marking the end of the Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, is expected to fall on May 24, subject to the sighting of the new moon. Last year, almost 15 million people traveled from the greater Jakarta region to their hometowns across the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

COVID-19 cases

Indonesia recorded 13 new deaths on Thursday to bring the total to 170 and 113 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the national tally to 1,790, according to the Health Ministry.

“One child aged 11 died of dengue shock syndrome and COVID-19 in East Java,” ministry spokesman Achmad Yurianto told BenarNews.

The number of confirmed deaths in Indonesia is the highest in Asia outside China. South Korea has recorded 169 fatalities so far, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Globally, 51,485 people have died and more than 1,002,159 have been infected, the JHU’s Coronavirus Resource Center said.

Despite the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, Luhut Pandjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, said that the decision to allow Eid travel was intended to “keep the economy alive.”

He appealed to Eid revellers to stay put, saying that the government would provide compensation for those who comply. He did not elaborate.

“Please realize that that if you go home, you may bring the disease,” Luhut said.

Holiday travelers will be subjected to rapid coronavirus tests to minimize infections, he said, adding that details were being worked out.

Juvenile offenders among inmates released

Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the Corrections Directorate General, said among the 18,000 inmates released so far were juvenile offenders and adult prisoners who had served at least two-thirds of their sentences.

“Our target is to release 30,000 inmates in total, but it could end up being more,” she told AFP news service. “This is part of the plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.”

Previously, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said corruption convicts should be among inmates eligible for early release to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Prisoners who would have served two-thirds of their sentences by December 2020 were to be freed under assimilation and reintegration schemes, according to a decree signed by Yasonna.

But under a 2012 government regulation, corruption convicts are exempt from the program.

Yassona argued that the regulation should be revised to allow 300 graft inmates who are older than 60, many of them former high-ranking government officials and wealthy businessmen, to be released early.

“We will propose the emergency revisions to the president,” he told lawmakers on Wednesday.

But the proposal drew criticism from anti-corruption activists.

“This is an opportunistic and shady move to change the rules under the pretext of coronavirus,” Donal Fariz, a campaigner at Indonesia Corruption Watch, told a news conference.

He said Yassona had sought to have the regulation revised since 2015.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher at Human Rights Watch, had urged the government to release political prisoners as well to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. These include pro-independence activists from Papua province and people who pose a relatively small security threat, he said.

The country’s prisons and detention centers hold almost 270,000 inmates, more than double the total capacity, he told BenarNews.

Islamic State update

Meanwhile, a Jakarta-based think-tank said it had monitored a “reduced level” of pro-Islamic State activity in Indonesia as a result of the pandemic.

“The number of arrests under Indonesia’s counter-terrorism law fell in the first three months of 2020,” the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report released Thursday.

It said 23 suspects were arrested across the country during that period, compared with 68 arrested and indicted in the previous three months (October to December 2019).

IPAC warned that Indonesian authorities need to monitor fund-raising efforts in connection with the virus, including appeals for protective equipment for health workers.

“Most of the private fund-raising efforts taking place in connection with the pandemic are going to be legitimate, but the history of Indonesia over the last two decades has been that whenever disasters occur, extremists seek to benefit,” the report said.

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