Asia-Pacific

Indonesia launches police unit to guard burials of coronavirus victims

Workers in protective clothing carry a coffin for burial at a newly opened cemetery prepared for victims of coronavirus in Medan, North Sumatra. Source: AP

Authorities are concerned that residents could try and block funerals and burials due to fears over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indonesia's capital Jakarta has launched a special police unit to guard the burials of coronavirus victims over concerns that scared residents could try to block funerals.

The move comes days after angry mobs in several cities on Sulawesi island and in Central Java blocked streets to prevent ambulances from transporting victims of the deadly illness to local cemeteries.

Launched at the weekend, the 120-strong Jakarta team will watch over victims' bodies as they are taken from hospitals to two cemeteries in the sprawling city, where virus corpses are being wrapped in plastic and quickly buried.

A motorcyclist gets a drive-through COVID-19 test in Bandung, West Java.
A motorcyclist gets a drive-through COVID-19 test in Bandung, West Java.
AAP

"We've seen cases in other cities and we don't want such a thing to happen in Jakarta so that's why we immediately formed the team as a preventative measure," Mokhamad Ngajib, head of the new unit, said.

On Monday, health authorities said 209 people had died of the virus with nearly 2,500 confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 260 million, where testing rates have been low.

More than half the official deaths have been recorded within Jakarta, but the Indonesian Doctors' Association has warned that the coronavirus crisis is far worse than has been officially reported.

Jakarta's funeral agency reportedly said on Monday that more than 600 people had been buried under virus protection protocols since the start of last month, suggesting the death toll could be much higher than the confirmed figures.

In Jakarta's two virus cemeteries, 30 personnel - including some wearing head-to-toe protective gear - would keep watch over interments and cemetery entrances, while others would ensure body-filled ambulances were not blocked.

Anyone blocking medical staff or interfering with burials could face up to a year in jail.

"We'll try to be persuasive at first. But if they don't stop then we'll take firm action and bring them to the police station," Mr Ngajib said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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