By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)– Christians prayed as Indonesia’s capital Jakarta was bracing for a coronavirus outbreak Monday, March 2, after several cases were confirmed in a major suburb. President Joko Widodo said two people, a 64-year old mother, and her 31-year-old daughter tested positive for the new coronavirus that is officially known as COVID-19.
The president announced that two persons became ill in Depok City on the outskirts of Jakarta, one of Asia’s largest cities, “after meeting a Japanese person who came to Indonesia.” Authorities said the two infected people quarantined at Jakarta’s Sulianti Saroso hospital.
Even before the outbreak in Depok City, officials took extraordinary measures at Jakarta’s main international airport. An arriving BosNewsLife reporter was among those forced to undergo a temperature test.
Young women in orange shirts riding on roller skates were on hand near the airport control section providing yellow documents with extended questions about possible past and current diseases.
The outbreak is impacting the already troubled devoted Christian community in the Jakarta metropolis, an area of more than 30 million people, that BosNewsLife covers in the coming days. “There is panic-buying in shops. The government has halted permits for large gatherings,” a resident said.
The new coronavirus, named for its crown-like shapes under a microscope, has infected tens of thousands of people worldwide, most of them in Asia, according to the World Health Organization. “China reported 206 cases of COVID-19 to WHO, the lowest since January 22. Only eight cases were reported outside Hubei province yesterday,” explained WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Outside China, a total of 8739 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to WHO from 61 countries, with 127 deaths. In the last 24 hours, there were almost nine times more cases reported outside China than inside China.” News that Jakarta could be next in line for the potentially deadly disease was due to raise concerns within the WHO organization further.
It added to difficulties for minority Christians here. They already have reported increased pressure on them by hardline Muslims and authorities in Jakarta and elsewhere in this heavily Islamic nation.
However, “There is now a chance for the churches to calm down people and not to panic,” a Christian aid worker told BosNewsLife. A Christian leader visiting a Gereja Bethel Indonesia (GBI) church, one of the leading charismatic denominations in Indonesia, called the coronavirus crisis a wake-up call for this Asian nation. “The coronavirus epidemic should be seen as an opportunity to confront people with the necessity to accept Christ in their lives,” said evangelist Paul Dhinakaran from India.
But the outbreak could not come at a worse moment for Jakarta. It is already dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. Last week torrential rain flooded the overpopulated capital for the second time this year, paralyzing broad areas. The flooding prompted rescue workers to evacuate people by boat from murky, brown waterways.
The rising waters also led to disturbances at a major Jakarta shopping mall where angry crowds could be seen running away and vandalizing some roadblocks. Footage obtained by BosNewsLife from witnesses was viewed within hours tens of thousands of times on its Twitter social media site.
A new heavy thunderstorm late Sunday, March 1, raised concerns about fresh flooding in Jakarta. The city has also been suffering from rising sea-levels amid a lack of adequate infrastructure. A Christian nurse told BosNewsLife that her Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital has struggled to cope with the disaster.
Patients at infusion tubes were awaiting doctors in floodwaters. A new potential influx of coronavirus patients could further complicate the situation in the already overstretched medical facility.
Christian residents have complained about the way Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan is handling the crisis facing the capital. Several Christian aid workers spoke on condition of anonymity, citing concerns about possible repercussions by Muslim hardliners. “Here, any criticism to the government or our difficulties is a sensitive topic. That is especially true in areas such as Jakarta,” said one church worker who uses the name Victoria.
Muslims account for roughly 87 percent of Indonesia’s 267 million people, said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Earlier BosNewsLife investigations found that the number of Christians including Protestants (7 percent) and Catholics (2.9 percent)
have been steadily growing, according to church leaders.
“We expect half of Indonesians to be ‘Christian,’ at least in name, within five to 10 years”, a senior church leader and evangelist told BosNewsLife earlier. That could mean some 130 million Indonesians identifying themselves as ‘Christian’ by the end of the decade. Former Muslims said they became Christians in part because of disappointment with the strict regulations linked to Islam.
Jakarta Governor Baswedan isn’t supporting the spread of Christianity, and the role Christian aid workers play in improving lives in the turbulent capital, critics say. “The governor is also extreme in his Islamic views and does not help the Christian community,” Victoria added.
She and others also accuse the devout Muslim of financial wrongdoing. BosNewsLife learned that at least several Christian and Muslim residents demand that he uses resources to tackle Jakarta’s ongoing floods, congestion, economic difficulties, health, and education. “He is currently misusing the funds he receives from the central budget,” residents said.
Under his leadership, even the landscape around the National Monument, abbreviated as Monas, was changed. All precious trees around the 132 meters (433 feet) structure were cut. The tall tower in Jakara’s central Merdeka Square, and its surroundings, symbolize the fight for an independent Indonesia. The country became independent from The Netherlands in 1949.
Indonesian media published an Indo Barometer survey saying that Baswedan is inferior compared to other Jakarta governors. Among the favorites is the previous governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama, also known as Ahok, a Christian.
Baswedan has denied wrongdoing. But the governor is reluctant to address critical questions about his policies. He reportedly shouted, “that’s enough” when asked by media about the survey.