Muslims across Indonesia marked a grim Eid al-Adha festival for a second year on Tuesday as the country struggles to cope with a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases.
Three weeks of surging infections and deaths have resulted in Indonesia replacing India as Asia’s Covid-19 hotspot, with the most confirmed daily cases. In the wake of the new wave, the government had banned large gatherings and toughened travel restrictions. Religious leaders have also urged the faithful to pray inside their homes and children were told to not go out to meet friends.
Every year on the Eid al-Adha holiday, Muslims in Indonesia usually gather at their local mosque for mass prayers, and hold family gatherings to enjoy food together. People gather in front of mosques to watch as goats and cattle, donated by devotees, are killed as sacrificial animals. The meat is then distributed to the poor to celebrate the Islamic day of sacrifice.
However, on Tuesday, the Eid al-Adha celebrations in Jakarta were quieter than ever, as many families in the capital decided to stay at home. Most are praying inside their houses, and greeting their relatives and families by calling them on the phone.
Last week, the country reported more daily Covid-19 infections than India and Brazil for three days running. More than 72,000 people have died, according to official records. These figures are thought to be an underestimate, due to a lack of testing.
Most of Indonesia’s cases are on the densely populated island of Java, where more than half of the country’s 270 million people live.
Last year, the government allowed Eid al-Adha prayers to go ahead in regions that did not record many Covid cases. However, this year, following the imposition of emergency public activity restrictions, the religious affairs ministry banned mass prayers in public places in regions classified as orange zones, where there is a medium risk of infection, and red zones, areas with a very high risk of infection. All of Jakarta’s regencies are classified as red zones, except the Thousand Islands regency.
Other areas are permitted to hold mass prayers, but with very strict restrictions.
While most decided to stay home, several mosques across Jakarta reportedly held the mass prayers, including in Jami At-Taqwa, in Kalideres, West Jakarta.
In the conservative province of Aceh, hundreds of people gathered at the Grand Mosque of Baiturrahman, located in the centre of the city of Banda Aceh. There was little physical distancing, and many did not use face masks.
Indonesia’s health ministry reported 34,257 new coronavirus cases and 1,338 deaths on Monday, making it the country’s deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.
Muslims pray spaced apart as a precaution against the coronavirus outbreak during an Eid al-Adha prayer at Zona Madina mosque in Bogor, Indonesia. Photograph: Tatan Syuflana/AP
President Joko Widodo appealed to Muslims to perform Eid prayers and recitation of God is great at home with their families.
“In the midst of the current pandemic, we need to be willing to sacrifice even more,” Widodo said in televised remarks on the eve of Eid. “Sacrificing personal interests and putting the interests of the community and others first,.”
Police set up highway checkpoints and blocked main roads for non-essential vehicles. Domestic flights and other modes of transportation were suspended, blocking people from making traditional family visits.
“This is unfair … but we should follow for the sake of people’s safety,” said Eka Cahya Pratama, a civil servant in the capital, Jakarta. He said he has lost many relatives because of Covid-19, including his aunt and two uncles.
“I feel really sad, I really miss them on the day of Eid,” he said.
The government has been criticised for failing to prevent travel and gatherings during the Eid al-Fitr festival in May. Activities associated with the holiday, as well as the emergence of the Delta variant, have been blamed for Indonesia’s current crisis. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and have reported shortages of oxygen, while many patients are dying at home, unable to access treatment.
Other Asian countries are also struggling to contain rapidly rising infections amid sluggish vaccination campaigns and the spread of the delta variant. Among them are Muslim-majority places such as Malaysia, Bangladesh and the southernmost four provinces of Thailand.
Unlike Indonesia’s restrictions, Bangladesh controversially paused its coronavirus lockdown for eight days to mark Eid al-Adha, and its millions of people are shopping and travelling this week, raising fears the holiday will cause a virus surge that will collapse its already-struggling health care system.
Malaysia also has struggled to control its outbreak, which has worsened despite being under a lockdown since 1 June. Total cases have soared by 62% since 1 June to above 927,000. Hospitals, especially in the state of Selangor, have been overwhelmed, with some patients reportedly being treated on the floor due to a lack of beds, and corpses have been piling up in mortuaries. Vaccinations, however, have picked up, with nearly 15% of the population fully inoculated.
The Malaysian prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, urged Muslims to stay home and celebrate the holiday modestly.
Indonesia began vaccinating aggressively earlier than many countries in south-east Asia. About 14% of its population have had at least one dose, primarily China’s Sinovac. But that may leave them susceptible, since Sinovac may be less effective against the Delta variant. Both Indonesia and Thailand are planning booster shots of other vaccines for their Sinovac-immunised health workers.
Associated Press contributed to this report