Indonesia has turned to the ultimate shock tactic against citizens refusing to wear face masks in public spaces – ordering them to dig the graves of Covid-19 victims.
According to the Jakarta Post, the authorities in Cerme province, East Java, forced eight people to dig the graves in a public cemetery in the local village of Ngabetan as punishment for violating mask rules.
“There are only three available gravediggers at the moment, so I thought I might as well put these people to work with them,” said a local leader named as Suyono.
“Hopefully this can create a deterrent.” He added that the men would be kept away from the actual burials. Residents of Cerme currently face fines and community service as the authorities battle to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases.
The province reflects much of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, which is experiencing a surge of infections in an endless first wave of the virus.
To date, the country has more than 225,000 cases and 8,965 deaths, although the actual figures are believed to be much higher than the official statistics.
The authorities have already resorted to displaying empty coffins at busy intersections in the capital, Jakarta, as a reminder of the risks of the highly contagious virus.
The coffins, next to a mannequin in a protective hazmat suit, have been painted with the words “Covid-19 victim” in red, to drive home the message for people to take necessary precautions.
Jakarta has become an epicentre of the virus, with reports of hospitals being overwhelmed with patients. As of Friday, 109 medics had died of Covid-19, according to the Indonesian Medical Association, and many health workers have warned that the public is not taking the virus seriously enough.
Gravediggers have also spoken of exhaustion in taking care of the rising number of bodies.
The government has been widely criticised for its botched, slow handling of the pandemic since it first hit the country earlier this year, resulting in Indonesia becoming one of the worst hit countries in Southeast Asia, on a par with the Philippines.
On Monday, Joko Widodo, the president, said the government had prepared a host of new quarantine centres, including three star hotels, to allow asymptomatic patients to self-isolate away from their homes.
The capital has been forced back into a partial lockdown after trying to reopen businesses, restaurants and offices.
“This is an emergency, more than at the start of the pandemic,” said Anies Basweden, Jakarta’s governor, last week.
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