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Jakarta Post

COVID-19: South Sulawesi cancels mass religious event, but not before thousands arrive on site

  • Andi Hajramurni

    The Jakarta Post

Makassar   /   Thu, March 19, 2020   /   01:46 pm
COVID-19: South Sulawesi cancels mass religious event, but not before thousands arrive on site An officer from the Port Health Office sprays disinfectant at the Syekh Yusuf Mosque in Gowa regency, South Sulawesi, on March 16. (Antara/Abriawan Abhe)

The South Sulawesi provincial administration has cancelled an international Islamic event that was set to take place in Pakkato village, Bontomaranmu district, Gowa regency over heightened concerns about COVID-19, but not before thousands of participants had already arrived at the site.

The cancellation was agreed upon following a meeting between administration officials and representatives of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in South Sulawesi on Thursday morning.

South Sulawesi Governor Nurdin Abdullah said the event, a grand tabligh (mass Quran recitation), was canceled because of the current public health emergency. It was imperative that the administration heeded President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s advice and suspended any form of mass gathering throughout the province, he said.

“We’ve cancelled [the event] because of the critical situation. We hope the spread of the coronavirus may be stemmed soon so that the event may be resumed,” Nurdin said.

Read also: North Sumatra traces residents who attended virus-stricken religious gathering in Kuala Lumpur

He said that the 8,223 participants who had already gathered in Pakkato village since Wednesday would be immediately put in isolation in a designated area.

Meanwhile, 411 foreign citizens who were to participate in the event would also be isolated at a hotel that the local administration had officially designated as a quarantine spot, he said.

“We have prepared a hotel where 411 foreign nationals will be quarantined,” Nurdin said, adding that the foreign visitors included people from Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Thailand and Singapore.

Domestic visitors from outside the province would also be quarantined at the Makassar Haj Dormitory before they return to their home regions, he said.

“They will return to their home regions in accordance with their plane or boat tickets. We’ll try to acquire tickets for those who have yet to secure tickets,” Nurdin explained.

Event participants who are South Sulawesi natives were to be returned to their home regions on Thursday. The administration had cooperated with a local military base and local police to provide buses and trucks to transport the event participants home, he said.

“We have coordinated with every regent and mayor [in the province]. Once [the event participants] arrive in their home regions, they will have to be immediately quarantined for 14 days. It could either be self-isolation at home or a quarantine in a designated area,” Nurdin said.

He called on the people of South Sulawesi to refrain from panicking as the local administration and authorities had already anticipated the situation.

All event participants previously undertook thermal scans upon their arrival in the province. One participant was found to have a fever and has since been referred to the Haji Hospital in Makassar, according to Nurdin.

Read also: Three Indonesians who attended mass prayer in Malaysia test positive for COVID-19

Sentot Abu Thoriq, a member of the event committee, told The Jakarta Post that they had no choice but to comply with the administration’s policy.

“We only gathered to pray together, listen to sermons and be closer to Allah. Local bureaucracy was apparently more scared of the coronavirus, which is a tiny organism. We had no other choice but to cancel the first Ijtima in Asia,” Sentot said, adding that the South Sulawesi administration should be responsible for the safety of all event participants.

The grand tabligh event was originally to take place from March 20 to 22.

It was previously reported that neighboring Malaysia recorded a spike in its number of confirmed COVID-19 cases following a similar Islamic event that had taken place within its borders late last month.

Indonesia's death toll from COVID-19 jumped to 19 on Wednesday, the highest in Southeast Asia to date, as the government announced that the number of infected people had reached 227. (rfa)