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Jakarta mosques spring back to life, businesses making preparations as COVID-19 curbs ease

Jakarta mosques spring back to life, businesses making preparations as COVID-19 curbs ease

Muslims performing Friday prayer at the Al Azhar mosque in South Jakarta on June 5, 2020. Mosques across Jakarta held their first Friday prayers after nearly two months due to the large-scale social restrictions. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

JAKARTA: The Al Azhar mosque in South Jakarta was a hive of activity on Friday morning (Jun 5), with caretakers getting the house of worship ready to stage its first Friday prayer in nearly two months.

Some caretakers were seen spraying the mosque with disinfectant, covering every inch of the property as well as objects that worshipers might touch.

Meanwhile, other caretakers pasted black electrical tape on the colorful rug, marking the areas where worshipers could or could not stand and sit during prayers.

Two workers spraying disinfectant fluid ahead of Friday prayers at the Al Azhar mosque in South Jakarta on June 5, 2020. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“This is a joyous day,” one caretaker, Muhammad Yahya told CNA. “We can now perform Friday prayers once more and bring our beloved mosque back to life.”   

The day before, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan announced that although the large-scale social restrictions have been extended, they will also be lifted in stages. The restrictions have been in place since Apr 10 to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The easing started with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, albeit with strict health protocols.

One requirement is to reduce the occupancy at places of worship by half and require worshipers to be at least one metre apart from each other.

Mosques are also required to conduct health checks on worshipers looking to enter the premises.    

A worshiper had his temperature checked before entering the Al Azhar mosque in South Jakarta on June 5, 2020. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“It is a small price to pay for the health of everyone praying here,” Mr Yahya continued. “I hope people understand that we cannot let the sick or people of vulnerable age groups like children or the elderly into the mosque.”

COPING WITH SOCIAL DISTANCING PROTOCOLS

The physical distancing measures imposed by the government meant that the main prayer hall of the Al Azhar mosque was completely occupied half an hour before Friday prayer was supposed to start.

Normally, at least 5,000 people would pray at this mosque with worshipers spilling into the courtyards below.  

On Friday, there were around 2,000 worshipers present. The mosque had to open up its ballroom, normally used for weddings and gatherings, to accommodate the crowd.

As more people came, that added capacity proved to be inadequate, causing some worshipers to pray on the pavements and parking lot.

As mosques in Jakarta are required to adopt physical distancing, some worshipers had to perform Friday prayer on the parking lot like here at the Al-Azhar mosque in South Jakarta on June 5, 2020. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

The Jakarta chapter of Indonesia’s most influential Islamic body, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) had tried to prevent overcrowding in mosques by allowing Friday prayers to be conducted in two shifts, one at noon and the other, an hour later.

But the decision did not go down well with senior clerics at the MUI’s head office, who argued that there is no religious basis for a Friday prayer to be performed more than once.

MUI head office’s chief of interfaith harmony Yusnar Yusuf was quoted as saying by Indonesian media that the solution is to allow Friday prayers to be held in other places besides the mosques, such as in prayer houses, halls, sports centres and stadiums.

Tape was used to mark where worshipers can or cannot be during prayers at the Al-Azhar mosque in South Jakarta. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

With the head office singing a different tune, the Jakarta chapter of MUI rescinded its earlier edict. “We heard and we complied with the fatwa issued by MUI head office,” MUI Jakarta chapter chairman Munahar Muchtar said after the head office’s announcement.

BUSINESSES GEARING UP FOR MONDAY REOPENING

The Indonesian capital, notorious for its traffic jams, was still largely quiet on Friday as commercial and business districts remained shut.

Governor Anies Baswedan announced that restaurants and shops, which are not located in malls, can start catering to dine-in customers on Jun 8. Offices can also resume operations on the same day, with half of the employees continuing to work from home.

READ: Indonesia cancels haj pilgrimage over COVID-19 concerns

Meanwhile, shopping malls will be allowed to reopen on Jun 15, while people can start visiting recreational parks on Jun 21 and 22.

On Friday, several businesses said they were getting ready to reopen.

“I had seen my income gone almost completely,” Mdm Nadya Asriyani, who owns a small clothing shop in Central Jakarta, told CNA.

For two months, Mdm Asriyani had to sell her outfits online but struggled to compete with more established brands.

A man walks past an electronics shop in South Jakarta as the store gets ready to open on June 5, 2020. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“Before the pandemic, I could earn a profit of between 2 million rupiah (US$143) to 3 million rupiah a day. But during the restrictions, there were days when I failed to sell a single piece of clothing,” she bemoaned.

“As soon as I heard Jakarta will allow businesses to reopen, I went to my shop, tidied up the place, checked my inventory to make sure they are undamaged or mouldy and got everything ready.”

Meanwhile, Mdm Ratna Juwita, a human resource manager at a trading company said she had been busy trying to arrange which of her employees should come to the office on Monday, while the others continue to work from home.

Jakarta's inner-city toll road was without its typical gridlock on June 5, 2020, three days before people are allowed to return to work at their offices. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“There are people who prefer to work from home because they rely on public transportation to get to work. However, there are also people who would rather come to the office because their internet connection is not so good at home,” she said.

Mdm Juwita said that her office is also scrambling to procure hand sanitisers and hire caterers so that employees would not need to go and eat outside.

“We have to make a lot of arrangements. Our main priority is our employees’ health and wellbeing,” she said.

EXPERTS FEAR A SECOND WAVE OF INFECTIONS

Mr Baswedan said the Jakarta government decided to ease the restrictions because the spread of the virus has slowed down, as indicated by the decrease in COVID-19 deaths and cases, among others.

But public health expert Dr Hermawan Saputra disagreed and said that it might too soon to ease restrictions.

READ: Indonesia nurses battling COVID-19 anxious over pay cuts, delayed bonuses

“The number of cases is still going up across Indonesia. Even in Jakarta, the number is fluctuating. There has been a slowdown in Jakarta because of the social restrictions. But the achievements we have made can be easily undone,” Dr Saputra told CNA.

Health workers wearing protective suits gesture from the isolation room for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients after taking swab samples, at the emergency unit at Persahabatan Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

“Even with restrictions in place, there is low compliance and infractions are abound. Imagine what would happen once you ease restrictions. People who might be bored at home might venture outdoors, clog the streets, flock to markets and let their guard down.”

Dr Adib Khumaidi, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Doctor’s Association echoed the sentiment.

“If we ease restrictions too soon, a second wave of infections can easily strike. Already, our healthcare system is overwhelmed. Should a second wave hit, there will be many patients who would go untreated. The death toll could easily rise,” he told CNA.

Mr Baswedan has said that he would not hesitate to apply the "emergency brake" and impose the restrictions again if there is a sharp rise in cases.

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Source: CNA/ni

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