About 8,000 people who had planned to attend an international gathering organized by a Muslim group were quarantined Thursday in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province after the event was cancelled amid fears of the spread of COVID-19.
The move came as Indonesia’s death rate from novel coronavirus infections hit 25, the highest in Southeast Asia, and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered his government to ramp up testing.
The religious event – which drew participants from across Indonesia and countries including Malaysia, Pakistan and India – was cancelled hours before opening, despite reports that hundreds of infections in eight countries had been traced to a similar gathering in Malaysia in February.
The gathering was to run through Sunday in South Sulawesi’s Gowa Regency, but the local government cancelled it at the last minute following public outcry.
Ali Yubra Kamaruddin, a spokesman for the Muslim missionary group sponsoring the event, Tablighi Jamaat, said about 8,000 pilgrims who had already arrived were being quarantined.
“We have provided an isolation place away from local people and medical personnel to monitor their health,” he told BenarNews. “Considering the circumstances, we decided to cancel the event. Participants who have not arrived have been asked not to come.”
Regional police spokesman Ibrahim Tompo said security forces were guarding the location to prevent the pilgrims from leaving it.
Meanwhile, 411 foreigners from nine countries had been quarantined at a hotel and would be allowed to leave based on their ticket travel dates, the Associated Press reported, citing the local governor, Nurdin Abdullah. Indonesians would face a 14-day compulsory quarantine upon returning to their homes.
A similar event organized by Tablighi Jamaat at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur in late February had been linked to 579 of Malaysia’s 900 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday.
In addition, cases traced to the gathering have been confirmed in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
1,500 attend ordination
On Thursday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called for more coronavirus testing as officials announced that six more people had died from COVID-19, making Indonesia’s death toll of 25 the highest in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia now has 309 confirmed COVID-19 cases, Health Ministry spokesman Achmad Yurianto said, after 82 more people tested positive, the nation’s biggest jump in infections a single day.
COVID-19 has infected more than 227,000 people and killed more than 9,300 worldwide, according to the latest figures compiled by infectious-disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
But even as the Muslim gathering was cancelled, about 1,500 people attended the ordination of a new Catholic archbishop on Indonesia’s Flores island in the mainly Christian province of East Nusa Tenggara on Thursday, officials said.
Provincial spokesman Samuel Pakereng said those who attended had their temperatures checked and were given hand sanitizer.
Doni Munardo, the head of the Indonesia COVID-19 task force, had asked church officials to postpone the ceremony, according to CNN Indonesia.
“Please delay the inauguration ceremony of the archbishop of Ruteng, for humanitarian reasons,” he said in text message seen by reporters on Thursday.
Mass coronavirus tests
Also on Thursday, Jokowi ordered his government to ramp up COVID-19 testing.
“Immediately carry out rapid tests with greater coverage to be able to detect early those people with COVID-19,” Jokowi said in a video conference with ministers and other officials.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said up to 27 trillion rupiah ($1.7 billion) has been set aside to help support efforts to eradicate the coronavirus.
“The handling of COVID-19 will be a top priority and funding can come from money intended for programs that are of lesser priority,” she told reporters.
The funds will be used to buy personal protective equipment for medical personnel, disinfectants, and test kits, and to improve the capacity of hospitals, she said.
Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said a military plane would be deployed to transport medical supplies from the Chinese city of Shanghai.
“The supplies include disposable masks, N95 masks, PPE (personal protective equipment), gloves, goggles, protective shoes and thermometers,” Prabowo spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak said.
Jokowi ordered vacant towers used to house athletes during the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta be converted into a quarantine facility for up to 2,000 COVID-19 patients.
The president also revealed that he has not been infected.
“My wife Iriana and I took COVID-19 tests four days ago and the test results are negative, praise be to God,” Jokowi told reporters.
Jokowi and cabinet ministers took the tests after Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi contracted the coronavirus and was hospitalized last week.
Ronna Nirmala in Jakarta contributed to this report.