By Agustinus Beo Da Costa
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s military ordered the deployment of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police on Monday to enforce rules on wearing masks and safe distancing after reports of people in the world’s fourth-most populous nation flouting them.
Even as cases of the coronavirus have continued to spike in the Southeast Asian nation, now reaching nearly 23,000 infections and 1,391 deaths, people have often been seen ignoring measures to stop the spread of the pandemic.
From Monday, about 340,000 officers will be deployed across four provinces to ensure the country’s transition to the “new normal”, Indonesian military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said Monday.
The presidential task force on fighting COVID-19 has said the country needs to move to a “new normal” of wearing masks, social distancing and good hand hygiene to combat the disease.
“We will monitor people to ensure people are wearing masks, and are also maintaining a safe distance from others,” said Hadi. “What we want is that people can do their activities, and at the same time stay safe from COVID-19.”
Malls with a capacity of 1,000 people, he said, would only be permitted to allow 500 people inside.
Officers will be deployed on streets and at malls and other strategic locations in the provinces of Jakarta, West Java, Gorontalo and West Sumatra, in a joint operation between the Indonesian military, police and local government, Hadi said.
The announcement comes days after people flocked to local markets in the capital and its surrounds, many unmasked, buying new clothes for Eid, the celebration at the end of the Islamic fasting month.
Earlier this month a crowd at a Jakarta airport also caused a stir on social media, with people criticising their fellow citizens for endangering the lives of frontline healthcare workers by not taking basic precautions.
Indonesia has come under fire from public health experts since March for its belated response to the novel coronavirus, while in recent weeks a string of regulatory backflips around social restrictions, work and travel has resulted in widespread confusion.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)