The Jakarta Post
The funeral of a nurse who succumbed to COVID-19 in Sewakul village, West Ungaran, Semarang regency in Central Java was met with rejection on Thursday afternoon from several residents due to concerns over the risk of possible infection.
It is the latest in a growing string of cases that shed light on the stigmatization of those who have contracted the disease in the province.
The nurse, identified only as NK, 38, was to be laid to rest next to her father’s grave upon her family’s request.
As a medical team from Kariadi Hospital – where NK used to work – prepared for the burial, dozens of Sewakul residents arrived at the scene and collectively rejected the funeral. Local neighborhood unit (RT) head Purbo spoke on behalf of the residents that afternoon.
Consequently, NK’s body was later moved to Bergota Cemetery, the largest public cemetery in Semarang.
Amateur footage of Thursday’s event has since circulated and sparked controversy on social media platforms, with many claiming that the locals’ actions reflected their supposed “disrespect” toward health workers who had sacrificed their lives for COVID-19 patients.
Ini video warga yang menolak perawat meninggal dunia karena Covid-19 di Ungaran Kabupaten Semarang, yang akhirnya di makamkan di Bergota, Kota Semarang.— ForzaPSIS (@ForzaPSIS) April 9, 2020
Seng nyocot kui manusia tapi rak berperikemanusiaan!
Piye nek goro2 iki, perawat e do mutung melu2 #dirumahaja
“They claim to be humans, but they’re not at all humane,” Twitter user @ForzaPSIS wrote in Javanese on Friday, alongside a video depicting an ambulance and other vehicles exiting Sewakul on Thursday. An onlooker who recorded the footage could be heard expressing his gratitude that the burial was canceled.
Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo has since apologized for the furor, reassuring the public that they had no reason to fear the burial of those who had died of COVID-19.
“I’d like to say once again that the bodies of COVID-19 patients are handled in accordance with safety standards,” Ganjar said in a video posted on his official Instagram page @ganjar_pranowo on Saturday.
“Nurses, doctors and other health workers never rejected a patient. How could we reject them, who have sacrificed their lives to save us?”
Ganjar went on to say he had issued a circular that aims to prevent similar issues from happening again in the future, as well as to educate regents and mayors across the province on the proper handling of bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients.
Purbo, the RT head in Sewakul who voiced the rejection on behalf of several residents, has since apologized publicly for the blunder.
“I sincerely apologize. As an RT head, I only voiced the will of the residents,” he said at the Indonesian Nurses Association (PPNI) office in Central Java on Friday.
As of Sunday, Central Java had recorded at least 200 confirmed COVID-19 patients and 25 deaths.
In response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, provincial capital Semarang shut down several major thoroughfares last month in the hope that residents would remain indoors and help flatten the curve of infection.
The Central Java Police, in cooperation with the Semarang Police, have since apprehended three residents of Semarang regency who had allegedly rejected NK’s burial in Sewakul. They were charged under articles 212 and 214 of the Criminal Code and Law No. 4/1984 on infectious diseases.
“They’re currently being detained at the Central Java Police headquarters for questioning,” said Central Java Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Iskandar Fitriana Sutisna on Saturday.
A local resident walks near Sasanalaya Girilayu public cemetery in West Ungaran, Semarang regency, Central Java on April 11, 2020. Semarang regency's COVID-19 task force has prepared a 3.4-hectare plot of land owned by the regency administration next to the cemetery as a burial site for deceased COVID-19 patients. (Antara/Aji Styawan)
Governor Ganjar said he had coordinated with several agencies, including the Central Java Social Agency, to build a number of heroes cemeteries meant for medical staff members who had died of the coronavirus disease across the province.
The move was expected to provide more dignified treatment of those who had dedicated their energy to treating COVID-19 patients, he said.
“We’ve prepared the locations and administrative permits,” said Ganjar on Saturday, stopping short of revealing the locations for future cemeteries.
“[Health workers] are aware that their jobs pose a great risk to their safety. We have to give them our utmost respect. I believe heroes cemeteries would serve as the most respectful memorials for the fallen ones.” (rfa)