Tag: Covid-19

Scant internet complicates remote learning in Indonesia

Wearing masks and face shields to guard against coronavirus, four pupils hunch over textbooks and a mobile phone during a remote learning session in a poor neighbourhood near the Indonesian capital.

“It’s not easy to learn online, and it’s also boring,” says 8-year-old Aldina, dressed in a bright red-and-white elementary school uniform and a matching face covering. “I wish I could be back in school so I can be with my friends and teachers,” she adds. 

Schools across Indonesia began implementing online learning as early as after the first cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in the country, but scant internet access in many areas and limited access to devices mean that many students are struggling to keep up.

Cellular coverage is spotty in Aldina’s densely populated neighbourhood in Bogor, a city just outside Jakarta, forcing her and three of her classmates to attend online classes outdoors on the side of the shallow Ciliwung river to get a signal.

“Apart from the weak phone signal, having to buy more pre-paid phone credit is a burden for us,” says Nur Aida, Aldina’s 42-year-old mother, who accompanies the children during classes.

“We don’t always have money for it,” she says.

Nearby, three junior high school students sit on a bench on the front porch of a modest house on the riverbank, each with a mobile phone. 

They are among those who have it easier. 

In West Sumatra province, some students have to walk several kilometres uphill to receive a cell signal to allow them to take part in remote classes, local officials say.  

Parents have also bore the brunt of the situation. 

Local media report that a 42-year-old man who was caught stealing a mobile phone in West Java admitted that he resorted to theft because he could not afford to buy one to be used by his child for remote learning.  

Education Minister Nadiem Makarim, former chief executive of the country’s most successful ride-hailing start-up, Gojek, said he is aware of the difficulties students and parents are facing.  

“It’s a challenging situation for all of us, and I sympathize with the parents and students for having to adapt to this different learning format abruptly,” he told local television.

“This isn’t something we all wanted. The choice is between learning poorly or not learning at all,” Makarim said.

He has promised that his ministry would come up with an emergency curriculum adapted to the pandemic and remote learning in a few days.

He also said the government would provide subsidies worth 3 trillion rupiah (205 million dollars) to schools to allow them to provide wider internet access and purchase devices for online learning.

About 65 per cent of Indonesia’s 265 million people have access to the internet, according to the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association. More people in the archipelago national have been able to access the internet in recent years thanks to the influx of cheap Chinese-made mobile phones and increasingly affordable data plans.

Fibre-optic internet access is still limited to major cities. 

Over 60 million students across Indonesia have been forced to attend remote classes during the pandemic, the SMERU Research Institute said in a report. While teachers in major cities are well-equipped to conduct classes online, those in villages have to travel as far as 30 kilometres to deliver lessons and homework to each student in-person because of a lack of internet access and gadgets, the institute said.

“If the problems persist until at least schools are reopened, it is highly likely that students under less fortunate circumstances will experience learning loss,” the report said.

“Learning inequality between students with different socio-economic backgrounds will also get even wider,” it said.

Around 80 per cent of Indonesians wanted schools to reopen even though daily Covid-19 cases show no signs of going down, according to the results of a survey by the private pollster Cyrus Network. 

Last week, the head of the country’s Covid-19 task force, Doni Monardo, said only schools in green zones across the country are allowed to reopen, but only 27 per cent of them were ready for physical classes.

“Some parents are happy for their children to return to school, but there are many others who object to in-person classes,” he tells a news conference. “The government leaves it to regional governments to decide.”

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.

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

Indonesians face sombre Ramadan amid pandemic restrictions

During the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week, Muslims in this mostly Muslim country are accustomed to spending more time at mosques, iftar gatherings with friends and other, more casual social mores.

But this year, with more deaths from COVID-19 than any Asian country outside China, many in Indonesia will not be able to attend in-person evening prayers, merry breaking of fasts at day’s end or travel home at the end of the holy month to celebrate the festival of Eid al-Fitr, as they  keep to themselves to help curb the spread of the disease.

Authorities in the greater Jakarta region, home to 30 million people — and across the nation that is home to 12% of the world’s Muslims have ordered places of worship, schools and nonessential businesses to close temporarily.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, has followed with a fatwa, or clerical ruling, that calls on Muslims not to perform Friday prayers and other congregation activities in mosques during the pandemic, instead urging the faithful to conduct Ramadan evening prayers at home.

 

“Performing prayers at home won’t reduce the value of our devotion to God,” said Asrorun Ni’am, secretary of MUI’s fatwa commission, last week. “Just staying at home to avoid spreading the virus or being exposed to the virus is considered a religious duty at a time like this.”

Ni’am said the pandemic was an opportunity for Muslims to strengthen their faith and family bonds. “We can turn our home into the center of worship. We pray together and share iftar meals with our family,” he said.

The Religious Affairs Ministry, in a circular released last week, banned government institutions from hosting iftar gatherings.

“Post-Ramadan gatherings can be conducted via social media or call/video conferences,” said the circular.

The council also said that traveling while knowing that one could be carrying the virus is a sin.

While the edicts have not been universally followed — hundreds of members of the international Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat have been quarantined at two Jakarta mosques, after some worshippers tested positive for COVID-19 — many Indonesians are accepting the curtailed Ramadan as fate.

“We have no other choice but to pray at home. Praying together in a mosque is religiously preferable, but I’m sure God will understand,” said Arie Gustian, a 27-year-old member of a mosque in Bogor, West Java. “We have to obey our government, because it’s for our own good.”

Gustian said he will be the only one who fasts in the house because his wife is pregnant, and he will be doing so while worrying about the security of his job.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said Friday (April 17) that more than 1.4 million workers had been furloughed or laid off and the government has warned that 5.2 million could lose their jobs.

Renaldi Adri Rimbatara, a 32-year-old father of two who lives in Bogor, fears for his future as the pandemic has forced him to temporarily close his small printing shop.

Rimbatara said he will keep his iftar feast simple this year.

“I don’t know if I can continue to put food on the table if this situation persists,” he said.

Even those who continue to work expect a somber Ramadan. Diana Marsella, a 33-year-old software engineer in Jakarta, has worked from home for a month and said she’s not worried that fasting will make her susceptible to contracting the virus. “We’ll just have to consume more health supplements and eat a lot more fruit and vegetables,” she said.

But she said the confinement would surely make days feel longer. “Ramadan is a time of joy and people spend a lot of time outside praying, meeting friends and even eating suhoor (pre-dawn meals) outside,” she said. “This time it will not be like that.”

For members of the persecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim community, the restrictions to defend against COVID-19 will make this Ramadan doubly difficult. Indonesia’s council of Muslim scholars has declared the teachings of the sect, founded in 1889 by Indian Muslim scholar Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, to be deviant.

The Ahmadiyya, who number about 400,000 in Indonesia, have been targets of attacks by Muslim extremists since at least 2005, when the MUI issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who follows its teachings is no longer Muslim. In 2011, hundreds of machete-wielding residents attacked a house in the Pandeglang district in Banten province, west of Jakarta, killing three Ahmadis.

“It’s like we are at war with two kinds of virus – the coronavirus and the virus of intolerance,” said Abdul Hafiz, a preacher at the Ahmadiyya community’s headquarters in Depok, south of Jakarta.

The mosque in Depok has been sealed off for years, its front door blocked by wooden bars. A sign plastered on the door declares that the building has been closed by the city. Worshippers have been forced to perform congregation prayers in the courtyard outside the mosques.

But Hafiz said their predicaments would not stop the dozen or so Ahmadis at the mosque from worshipping during Ramadan, or carrying out charitable activities, while observing social distancing measures and obeying restrictions imposed by the government.

“During Ramadan, we usually distribute iftar meals to the needy, attend iftar gatherings and perform congregation taraweeh (evening) prayers,” Hafiz said. “This year we will do whatever the authorities tell us to do. But of course as social beings, we have an obligation to help each other and we will continue to do that despite the limitations.”

This story was first published by Religion News Service and The GroundTruth Project exploring how faith communities around the world are adapting to COVID-19, produced with support from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Dr. Corona chairs campaign to contain coronavirus chaos

It seems he was born and named for the job. Emergency medicine expert Dr. Corona Rintawan is heading a task force set up by Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, to contain the spread of coronavirus.

“The Muhammadiyah COVID-19 Command Center (MCCC) is set up to consolidate all Muhammadiyah assets in an integrated effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” Rintawan said.

Rintawan was appointed to lead the MCCC, an interdisciplinary task force with 13 experts educating the public on how to stop the spread of the virus.

His emergency experience includes being in medical teams responding to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 and the 2015 Nepal earthquake. He also took part in a humanitarian mission for the Rohingya in Myanmar in 2017.

“We are taking a proactive approach to assist the government in early diagnoses or early treatment for patients that show initial symptoms of infection,” Rintawan said.

He added: “We will ensure that such patients will receive treatment in accordance with the health protocol that the government has issued for the outbreak before we refer them to government hospitals should they need further treatment.”

The 45-year-old doctor, who is based at a Muhammadiyah-run hospital in Lamongan, East Java, said: “The public has to be well-informed that they could carry the risk of spreading the virus. We want to encourage the people to take the initiative to prevent it, by washing their hands often, getting themselves diagnosed should they feel they have symptoms, knowing when they have to wear face masks, donating masks to those who need them and eventually to self-isolate when necessary.

“It is about self-containment by one person who is aware of the situation and knows what to do to take care of oneself in the face of virus threats. It could create a positive domino effect in terms of reducing the potential to contract others with the virus.”

According to Rintawan, Muhammadiyah has designated 20 out of its 171 hospitals across the country to serve as referral facilities for persons suspected of having contracted the virus.

Asked about his name, the doctor said his parents would name their children in alphabetical order. Being the third, his name had to start with “c.”

“There was no such thing as baby name books at that time, so they decided to take my name from the Toyota Corona car, which was a popular model back in the 1970s, and as they also found that it means a crown, which symbolizes something good,” he said.

Government spokesperson for the outbreak Achmad Yurianto said Indonesia reports 17 new Covid-19 positive cases as per Monday, of which 14 are in Jakarta, raising the total confirmed cases to 134 including the first Indonesian senior official contracted by the virus, transport minister Budi Karya Sumadi.

Jakarta Governo Anies Baswedan on Monday urged city residents to exercise social distancing and companies to send staff to work from home, as government officials sent signals that hospitals are overburdened in treating coronavirus patients, with Yurianto saying that not all positive cases should be in hospital isolation and those with asymptomatic cases can self-isolate at home.

“The risk in this city is high. We have to be disciplined in exercising social distance,” Baswedan said.

The story has been updated from its original version in Arab News