09/18/2020, 12.23
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In Indonesia, people who don't wear a mask dig graves for COVID-19 dead

It is hoped that grave digging might be educational and show "firsthand the real and serious effect of COVID-19”. For a second time, Jakarta authorities have been forced to introduce mass social restrictions on Sunday. Since the start of the pandemic, with cases still on the rise, the city's health infrastructure may be close to a breaking point.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – People who refuse to wear a mask are being forced to dig graves for COVID-19 victims.

Authorities in some parts of rural Indonesia are using this singular initiative to get people to do their part to stop the pandemic.

Three middle-aged men and five minors were punished this way on 9 September in Cerme district, Gresik Regency (East Java),

Although mask-wearing is mandatory in public across Indonesia, a segment of the population has been reluctant to cover their face and practise social distancing.

Experts say the lack of vigilance has made it more difficult for Indonesian authorities to stop the spread of the virus, which has infected so far nearly 230,000 people in the country.

More than 160,000 of them have recovered, whilst at least 9,100 have died, according to the Ministry of Health.

As cases rose, the Indonesia government passed a law in July requiring people to wear face masks in public, but left punishment to local officials for non-compliance.

A joint team called the "three pillars" – Armed Forces, national police and local law enforcement – is tasked with enforcing restrictions across the country.

In Cerme, the "three pillars" give those who are caught not wearing a mask the option to paying a fine of 150,000 rupia (US) or accepting what the government calls "social punishment", which often involves push-ups or cleaning.

According to district leader Suyono, whilst most people have accepted social punishment for now, he hopes options like grave-digging would be educational and show "firsthand the real and serious effect of COVID-19."

In Jakarta, the authorities adopted a similar approach earlier this month. A man was forced to sit in a coffin in public after being caught not wearing a mask.

It remains to be seen if this type of penalties has increased the use of face masks.

The country has failed to flatten the curve for months and infections are still on the rise. Only the Philippines has recorded more cases in Southeast Asia.

Last Sunday, large-scale social restrictions were introduced in Jakarta, the second time the authorities have been forced to do so since the start of the pandemic.

With the number of cases still rising, the city's health infrastructure may be nearing a breaking point.

Emergency units in all 20 Jakarta hospitals authorised to treat COVID-19 patients are full, officials said on Monday.

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