Indonesia launches police unit to guard burials of virus victims

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia’s capital Jakarta has launched a special police unit to guard the burials of coronavirus victims over concerns that residents could try to block funerals, authorities said on Monday.

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.

“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,” said Mokhamad Ngajib, head of the new unit.

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 cemetrey entrances, while others would ensure body-filled ambulances were not blocked, Ngajib said.

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

Indonesian soldiers disinfect a village amid concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 in Banda Aceh. PHOTO: AFP