Indonesia allocates US$4.4 bil for village squads to prevent virus spread

A security guard takes the temperature of a worshipper prior to the start of Friday prayers at a mosque. (AP pic)

JAKARTA: Indonesia plans to mobilise volunteers to fight the spread of coronavirus in coastal villages and the vast hinterlands of the archipelago with part of a US$4.4 billion rural budget to be used to fund the initiative.

The squads of volunteers will help authorities in increasing awareness about the pandemic in the country’s almost 75,000 villages, collect data on people exhibiting symptoms of infection and enforce social distancing rules, Eko Sri Haryanto, an official at the Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration, told reporters in Jakarta Tuesday.

Authorities are stepping up efforts to contain the spread of the disease that has already infected more than 1,400 people and killed 122, the highest death toll in Southeast Asia.

President Joko Widodo, who has resisted calls for a lockdown to combat the virus, has ordered strict enforcement of social-distancing and monitoring to limit its spread in rural Indonesia.

Jakarta and surrounding areas currently account for about two-thirds of the nation’s positive cases and fatalities, data show.

Officials are worried about a potential spike in infections with tens of thousands of workers, most of who were employed informally, already returning to their villages from Jakarta and other cities after losing their jobs, and many more set to head home when the Muslim-majority nation celebrates the end of the fasting month in May.

The village squads will help monitor workers and students returning from cities and ensure they adhere to isolation rules, Haryanto said.

“We need to form responsive village teams as this disease has no cure yet and most villages have no easy access to health facilities,” Haryanto said. “The pandemic can disrupt the economy and we are worried about the impact on the villages.”

Jokowi, as Widodo is known, on Tuesday ordered officials to step up monitoring of Indonesian workers returning from overseas while the government also announced a ban on foreign nationals visiting or transiting the country to prevent the virus from spreading further.