Mahfud MD slammed for comparing coronavirus to wives

Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mohammad Mahfud MD, has been criticized sharply for comparing the novel coronavirus to a wife in an attempt to allay public concerns about easing COVID-19 restrictions. 

The Indonesian government is preparing to lift partial lockdowns in parts of the country in early June and adopt what it calls ‘the new normal’. 

“Are we going to be holed up forever? We can adjust to the situation while still paying attention to our health,” Mahfud said in a video posted on YouTube on Wednesday. 

“The other day I got a meme from my colleague Luhut Pandjaitan that says: Corona is like your wife. Initially you tried to control it, then you realize that you can’t. Then you learn to live with it,” he said in English. 

Pandjaitan is the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment.  

The off-the-cuff remarks drew ire from women’s rights groups and other Indonesians online.

“Not only does the statement reflect the incompetence of the government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, it also demonstrates the sexist and misogynistic attitudes of public officials,” Women’s Solidarity Society said in a statement.  

“Jokes that objectify women will only normalize the culture of violence against women,” it said.

Indonesians on social media joined the chorus of criticism. 

“A man who marries a woman with the intention to control her is horrifying. Comparing a woman to a virus is an insult to the dignity of women,” a Twitter user named Deslina wrote. 

Some Indonesians have expressed concerns about the plan to reopen the economy at a time when the curve appears to have not flattened. 

The government is deploying 340,000 security personnel in four provinces – Jakarta, West Java, West Sumatra and Gorontalo – to enforce “the new normal,” Armed Forces chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto. 

They have been tasked with ensuring the public observe health guidelines prescribed by the government, including wearing masks and respecting social distancing. 

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose to 23,851 on Wednesday, an increase of 686 from the previous day. 

An additional 55 deaths brought the number of fatalities to 1,473.

Change in the itinerary

Indonesia is bracing for a new normal in the tourism industry as it lays the groundwork for a post-Covid revival by next year.

“In the future, we will focus on some issues that really matter in order to anticipate new tourism trends and paradigms, or the ‘new normal’, where people would be more concerned, for example, with sanitation and hygiene issues,” said Wishnutama Kusubandio, the tourism and creative economy minister.

“It would also include improving technological and digital approaches to tourism services and the creative economy.”

How tourism sites implement social and physical distancing measures will be a big part of the future direction, he said.

So too will digital platforms as a key part of the travel and tourism ecosystem where buyers and sellers meet, he added.

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An aerial view of Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara province. The town is the gateway to Komodo Island and Rinca Island, home of the Komodo dragon. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Bali, the country’s most popular destination, is hoping to start welcoming some domestic visitors back as early as June, but traveler profiles will be different, according to Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board.

“Our market will change. There will be few big groups and more families traveling together,” he said. “We will adopt new protocols in various aspects and we will focus first on domestic tourists, at least until the end of the year.”

Based on 2019 data provided by the travel portals Agoda and Traveloka, domestic tourists accounted for 60% of all the arrivals to the island.

“We will gradually focus on regional clients such as from Singapore and other neighboring countries, and move on to the wider Asian region such as China, but this will depend on whether international travel restrictions are lifted,” said Mr. Adnyana.

Despite the high influx of foreigners on the island in January and various direct flights from China including from Wuhan where the pandemic originated, Bali has accounted for only less than 2% of the national caseload of Covid-19 infections, with 407 cases of infections out of 23,165 and four confirmed deaths of out 1,418 nationwide as per May 26.

The number of foreign tourist arrivals nationwide in March dropped by 45.5% from February and was down by 64% from March last year, according to Statistics Indonesia.

The cumulative decline from January to March was 2.61 million arrivals or 30.6%, Mr. Kusubandio said, adding that revenue generated from the industry could drop by more than 50% from the US$20 billion forecast earlier.

Mr. Adnyana said tourism revenue in Bali last year was 9.35 trillion rupiah (US$630 million), or 55% of the national total.

Indonesia has been working to make tourism a core economic driver within five years, with a revenue contribution on par with that of the palm oil sector. It had set a target of 17 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2020 but the outbreak has left that plan in tatters.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani said the pandemic had put Indonesian airlines under “tremendous pressure” with 12,703 domestic and international flight cancellations in January and February. The number of flights operating in the country plummeted from around 79,000 in pre-pandemic times to only around 70 now.

“The airline industry lost 207 billion rupiah ($13 million) in revenue in January and February,” Ms. Mulyani said during a virtual meeting with lawmakers overseeing financial affairs on May 4.

Jakarta-based Statqo Analytics, in an analysis of web traffic in March, estimated the national aviation industry experienced a 44% drop, based on traffic on airline websites, while tourism and hospitality sites had a 55% decrease in their activities.

The airline analysis showed that Batik Air and budget carriers Citilink and Lion Air experienced significant drops, while the flag carrier Garuda Indonesia remained stable throughout March.

This suggested that middle- and upper-income earners who are the main group of Garuda flyers were still mobile despite the pandemic. They also had the financial means to fly to safer zones and escape from Jakarta, the Covid-19 epicenter, or because other airlines had reduced their flights.

According to the analytics, Traveloka experienced a 60% drop in website traffic in March, with similar decreases evident in similar sites such as Tiket.com, Trivago, Pegipegi and Nusatrip.com.

“This would have a direct impact on other businesses related to tourism and hospitality such as car rental, food and beverages, travel services and souvenir shops,” said a report by Statqo.

Dionisius Nathanael, the chief marketing officer of Traveloka, acknowledged that the tourism sector has been profoundly affected.

“The potent combination of trip cancellations and travel restrictions on international flights has had a staggering impact on the industry,” he said in an emailed response to Asia Focus.

At the same time, he said, the all-you-can-find travel services app had been facing a significant increase in assistance requests — up to 10 times higher than in normal times.

Mr. Nathanael said Traveloka had been refocusing its efforts to meet the shifting needs of users, whose main priority now is to stay safe. This has resulted in changes to travel plans and high demand for refunds and rescheduling requests.

Internally, he added, the company has been strengthening its customer care team and improving its back-end system, as well as working closely with partners in order to accommodate requests from users affected by the travel collapse.

“The safety of our users has always been our main priority, especially during this challenging situation. Therefore, we encourage users to carefully plan their travel itinerary and follow the latest information announced by the government or relevant institutions, such as WHO, if they still have to travel during this period,” he said.

Traveloka declined to confirm news reports that it had laid off a number of staff.

The Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) said that as of April 13, 1,642 member hotels had been closed across the country with thousands of workers furloughed, while millions of others in sectors related to tourism are jobless.

Statqo undertook further analysis based on social media platforms, online forums and news websites with a focus on three main keywords: “PHK” or the Indonesian acronym for work termination, dirumahkan or being furloughed, and “bankrupt”. It indicated that the number of people who are out of jobs as a result of the outbreak was increasing.

PHK was used a lot in online exchanges, although searches related to furloughs were more common in Bali.

“We predict that this is due to the characteristic of tourism and hospitality industry in Bali,” Statqo said. “There seemed to be optimism that after the outbreak is over, the industry would revive and they could get their employees back to work without having to terminate their employment.”

The story was first published in Bangkok Post

 

 

 

Indonesia urges pregnancy postponement amid fears of COVID-19 baby boom

Indonesia’s family planning agency on Thursday urged couples to delay pregnancies after estimates showed that 10 percent of reproductive couples in the fourth most-populous country had abandoned contraception as a result of restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lack of access to contraceptives could result in 420,000 unplanned pregnancies, sparking fears of a COVID-19 baby boom, said Hasto Wardoyo, the head of the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN).

“With an additional 420,000 births next year, population growth in Indonesia could surge dramatically,” he said. “If you plan to get pregnant, now is not the right time.”

The government estimates that about 15 percent of 3 million couples who stopped using contraception between March and April could end up pregnant, Hasto said, adding that 95 percent of contraceptive users in Indonesia are women.

Hasto said people had been reluctant to visit health clinics because of fears they would contract COVID-19, while many health workers have suspended their practices to avoid contact with other people.

Government health workers assisted by military personnel are going door-to-door to provide contraceptives and other family planning services, along with personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel in the field of reproductive health, he said.

Health officials in Tasikmalaya, a regency in West Java province, reported earlier this month that the pregnancy rate doubled to more than 3,200 in the January-to-March period compared to last year.

“The April-to-May period may see another rise,” said Uus Supangat, chief of the Tasikmalaya health office, according to Kumparan.com online news portal.

Nearly 5 million babies are born every year in Indonesia and about 28 million couples were using contraception last year, according to government data.

COVID-19 cases

Indonesia recorded 973 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the largest single-day rise so far, taking the total to 20,162. East Java province saw the highest daily increase on Thursday, 502, COVID-19 task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said.

Globally, more than 5 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and nearly 330,000 have died as of Thursday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Obstetrics and Gynecology Association (POGI) has urged couples planning pregnancy to postpone visits to clinics until the pandemic is under control as health workers are focusing their attention on providing services to expectant women to prevent COVID-19-related complications.

“Even though there’s no evidence yet that the fetus can be infected by COVID-19, we still have to take precautions,” said Budi Wiweko, POGI’s deputy secretary general.

“We have to avoid caesarian delivery as much as possible,” he said.

Angga Sisca Rahadian, a researcher with the Population Research Center at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said the predicted 420,000 additional births in 2021 would make it harder for Indonesia to achieve its total fertility rate target of 2.1. The rate refers to the average number of children a woman would have if she survives all reproductive years.

Indonesia’s total fertility rate is 2.4, according to a 2017 demographic and health survey.

“With the increase in pregnancy rates during the pandemic, it will certainly affect the growth rate,” Angga said, referring to population growth.

Angga said the government must ensure that women who are pregnant during the pandemic are given maternity care.

“These are unplanned pregnancies and the government has to find ways to keep pregnant women well-nourished to prevent complications,” she said.

Infant mortality rate in Indonesia is 24 per 1,000 live births, while under-5 mortality rate is 32 per 1,000 live births, far beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of 70 per 100,000 live births, according to the 2017 demographic survey.

Travel concerns

Task force spokesman Yurianto attributed the jump in single-day COVID-19 cases in Indonesia to increased testing and the failure to observe social distancing measures.

He warned that the country could see an increase in infections because of higher mobility during the holy month of Ramadan culminating in the Eid al-Fitr festival, which falls on Sunday.

Traffic in the greater Jakarta region has been busier in recent days ahead of Eid al-Fitr, while airports, sea ports and markets have also started to reopen.

The head of the COVID-19 task force’s team of experts, Wiku Adisasmito, said public perception that travel restrictions had been relaxed could also be a factor.

“It could be due to increased testing, or due to the lack of discipline in observing health protocols,” he said.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday said the government would not ease restrictions amid criticism that the government is silently relaxing measures to curb the spread the virus to keep the economy running.

Speculation that the government is taking steps toward reopening the economy emerged last week after Wiku said residents 45 and younger could be allowed to return to work.

He said West Java has been a bright spot in the fight against COVID-19 for its success in flattening the curve.

“Hopefully other provinces can catch up,” he said.

East Java Deputy Gov. Emil Dardak told local television that the provincial government had tested not only people who showed symptoms of COVID-19, but those who were at risk, resulting in the high number of daily cases.

The story was first published on BenarNews.org

Lautze Mosque: A symbol of Chinese-Muslim assimilation in Indonesia

The bright red, yellow and green temple-like exterior of the Lautze Mosque in Jakarta’s Chinatown could be mistaken for a Chinese home.

However, the distinctive structure of the mosque reaffirms its role as a good example of how Indonesians of Chinese descent blended in with their predominantly indigenous Muslim neighbors.

“Many mistook the mosque for a Chinese temple, so two years ago, we put up signs bearing the name of the mosque,” Imam Naga Kunadi said.

The three-story mosque is part of a row of buildings in a busy trading area along Lautze Street, after which the mosque is named, in Central Jakarta. Because of its location, the mosque only opens during the day.

“In Ramadan, we usually open every Saturday, starting at Asr time, because we have a specific type of congregation — many of the members live far from the mosque. We would provide iftar and hold taraweeh prayers. But we cannot do that this year as we have to close due to the large-scale social restrictions in this time of coronavirus,” Kunadi said.

Kunadi, whose Chinese name is Qiu Xue Long, said the mosque would still operate in a subdued manner for alms collection and distribution, or to assist those wishing to convert to Islam, and that mosque officials would act in compliance with social distancing measures.

The mosque was established in 1991 by the Haji Abdul Karim Oei Foundation, named after a Chinese-Indonesian Muslim nationalist, the late Abdul Karim Oei Tjeng Hien.
It aimed to facilitate the assimilation of the ethnic Chinese community and indigenous Muslims, especially in cases where ethnic Chinese people wished to embrace Islam.

“We understand the specific needs of Chinese mualaf (convert). We understand what they go through because we’ve experienced it before,” said Kunadi, who converted to Islam in 2002.

The original mosque occupied a shophouse and, a few years later was expanded after acquiring an adjacent building to accommodate 300 congregation members.

“The Chinese-style exterior is also to show that we still maintain our Chinese heritage even though we converted to Islam,” Kunadi said.

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Muslim faithful gathered for a mass taraweeh prayer in Ramadan 2019 in front of Lautze Mosque 2 in Bandung, West Java. Photo: Instagram @masjidlautze2

Muhammad Ali Karim Oei, son of Oei Sr., said the facade was designed to make the mosque more welcoming for ethnic Chinese people wishing to come inside and ask about Islam.

“They are free to ask anything and learn about Islam here, even some burning questions they may be reluctant to ask in other mosques. It is another reason we chose the name Lautze — a Chinese word for teacher,” Oei Jr. said.

The mosque has seen more than 1,000 Chinese-Indonesians embrace Islam. In addition to making an ethnic Chinese person part of the country’s Muslim majority, it also makes the person a double minority for being a Muslim minority in an already small ethnic group.

Its reputation as a nonjudgmental place for Chinese-Indonesians who want to study Islam, and for the new converts, as well as other Chinese Muslims to observe the faith, led to the establishment of Lautze Mosque 2 in Bandung, West Java in 1997.

“There was a need for a mosque that accommodates the growing number of Chinese-Indonesian Muslims in the city. They felt like there was still a gap when they pray in regular mosques. People would look at them differently, even though they are already part of the Muslim brethren,” Hernawan Mahfudz, an official from Lautze Mosque 2 Foundation told Arab News.

To make them feel more at home, congregation members are encouraged to address each other as “koko” and “cici,” the Chinese words for brother and sister.

Like its Jakarta predecessor, the mosque maintains the Chinese-style facade accentuated by a row of Chinese red lanterns. The ground floor serves as the prayer hall for 200 people while the upper floor serves as a shelter for the mualafs who might be experiencing hardship as a result of their conversion.

Despite the mosque closures, Mahfudz said they would still keep the Ramadan tradition alive even without the communal gatherings.

“We still provide iftar meals every day but instead of having them at the mosque, we distribute the meals directly to the beneficiaries. We also conduct group Qur’an recitations and sermons using videoconferencing applications,” he said.

This story was first published in Arab News

A crate idea: Indonesian architects reuse plastic boxes to build mosque

Under normal circumstances, the small mosque on the outskirts of Jakarta constructed from 1,208 used plastic bottle crates would have been abuzz with the sound of people praying and reciting the Quran during Ramadan.

It would be the first Ramadan since the 42-meter-square mosque was built in late 2019, following the establishment of Kebun Ide (Garden of Ideas) — a restaurant with a back-to-nature theme — which houses the facility.

The coronavirus pandemic might have prevented communal prayers, but the mosque’s plastic recycling design is still attracting attention.

“Since we have this prayer room, many residents around here have expressed interests to organize gatherings such as group Quran recitations there. But unfortunately, we cannot do that now as we have to close the restaurant due to social distancing rules,” Handoko Hendroyono, the owner of Kebun Ide, told Arab News.

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A worshipper prayed inside Kotakrat, a praying room that can accommodate nine worshippers and constructed of 1,208 reused plastic bottle crates built in late 2019 in Bintaro township on the southern outskirts of Jakarta. Photo: Instagram @psastudio

The pavilion, named Kotakrat, was initially constructed to be part of a local architectural exhibition in Bintaro township.

“The project concept was good because it reused discarded material, and there was a need for a praying room for our guests and employees, so I agreed to have the Kotakrat to be constructed in our space. Now we have a very good place to pray. Many visitors didn’t realize that it is actually a prayer room,” he added.

Designed and constructed by architect firm PSA Studio, Kotakrat is part of an architectural project to build a multi-purpose “space of kindness” to meet the community’s social needs.

“This space of kindness can be in the form of a kiosk, place of worship, shelter, bus stop, security post, and many other places. It is built from plastic crates that we can easily find and install to form a space for various architectural shapes and purposes. The crates can be arranged to function as a roof, a partition, and a wall,” Ario Wirastomo, a principal architect in the firm, told Arab News.

This construction used 1,208 used plastic bottle crates to form the prayer room’s walls and roof, and benches for the visitors to remove their shoes before entering.

It also provides water faucets for congregants to perform ablutions.

The architects used bolts to join the crates. They also used a polycarbonate roof supported by hollow metal frames.

The mosque has two separate entrances for men and women, although it does not separate men and women in the 8.64-meter-square praying space that can accommodate three rows of nine worshippers. The first row is for the imam, while the other two rows are for men and women respectively.

“As a prayer room is a public place that Muslims would look for to perform the five daily prayers everywhere they go, we expect the Kotakrat space would be durable and functional for a long time,” Wirastomo said.

Despite reusing discarded material, Wirastomo said he could not claim this project was environmentally friendly but he hoped people would be more aware of recycling waste.

Indonesia is one of the world’s top plastic waste producers with 5.05 million tonnes of plastic rubbish generated annually, out of which 81 percent is mismanaged and contributes 10 percent to the global total of mismanaged plastic waste. Our World In Data projected that Indonesia would contribute almost 11 percent of global mismanaged plastic waste by 2025.

The country’s chief maritime affairs and investment minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, recently said that Indonesia has come up with an action plan that aims to reduce 70 percent of its plastic pollution by 2025, hoping to be free of plastic waste by 2040.

This story was first published in Arab News

Indonesia extends partial lockdown in second-largest city

Indonesia extended the partial lockdown of its second-largest city Surabaya and the two neighbouring administrative regencies of Sidoarjo and Gresik, in East Java province, as new infections and deaths spiked at the weekend.

East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa said on Sunday that the decision was taken following a review of the Covid-19 growth rate and consultations with epidemiologists.

“After evaluation on the first phase of enforcing the large-scale social restriction, we agreed to extend the restrictions in Surabaya, Gresik and Sidoarjo,” Parawansa said in a statement.

The first phase of partial lockdown in the three regions had been set to end on May 11. It is now due to expire on May 25.

The governor said authorities would more strictly enforce the anti-virus restrictions – including stringent social distancing measures and bans on events and other social gatherings – in place during this second phase.

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Achmad Yurianto, the spokesman for the national Covid-19 task force, said on Sunday that the national caseload in Indonesia rose to 14,032 with 387 new confirmed infections.

Out of the total national tally, 1,502 are in East Java where the death toll rose to 143 and 83 new cases were recorded, surpassing West Java as the second-most infected province after Jakarta, where more than 5,000 infections were found.

East Java found new clusters of Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks, including in a Surabaya plant owned by Indonesia’s largest tobacco company, HM Sampoerna, where two workers died of infection and dozens of others tested positive.

Parawansa also said the provincial administration is seeking approval from the Health Ministry to impose the large-scale social restrictions in the greater Malang area, which consists of Malang and Batu municipalities and Malang regency, after assessment from epidemiologists at Airlangga University showed new infection cases have spiked in the area.

Indonesia condemns abuse of its fishermen on Chinese vessels

Indonesia’s government on Sunday blasted the allegedly slave-like conditions that its 46 seamen were forced to endure while working on four Chinese-flagged fishing vessels.

“We condemn the inhumane treatment that our crewmen suffered while working onboard Chinese-owned vessels. Based on the information from the crew members, the treatment has violated human rights,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a press briefing.

Marsudi said she has met with 14 crew members who arrived in Jakarta over the weekend from Busan, South Korea, where they had disembarked in late April and a crew member had died of pneumonia in a hospital.

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She said the 14 crew members told her of abusive working conditions on the vessels and some of them had not received at all their salaries.

“I also found out from them that their working hours were inhumane, more than 18 hours per day,” the foreign minister said.

The incident came to light after one of the crewmen told a South Korean broadcaster of the exploitation that Indonesian fishermen suffered onboard the Chinese vessels.

The unidentified crew member provided the broadcaster with a clip showing a bag containing the body of an Indonesian crew member being thrown overboard for a burial at sea.

Marsudi said three Indonesian crew members had been buried at sea, two were buried in the Pacific Ocean in December 2019 after succumbing to an unspecified infectious disease while another one was buried at sea in March following his family’s consent.

There are still two Indonesian crew members who have gone back to work in one of the vessels that has resumed working and their repatriation is being processed, while 29 others have returned home on April 24 and May 3.

The ministry said their contract stated that should the crew members die at sea, their bodies would be cremated and the company would send the ashes to the crew members’ families in Indonesia.

Marsudi said Indonesia has demanded the Chinese authorities to fully cooperate with their Indonesian counterparts for an investigation of the case.