Asia Today: Indonesians return to mosques, at a distance

By Associated Press 29 May 2020, 12:00AM

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Muslims in some parts of Indonesia attended Friday prayers as mosques closed by the coronavirus for weeks were allowed to start reopening in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The guidelines for worship facilities released by religious affairs minister Fachrul Razi on Friday change many traditions in mosques. Worshippers usually pray shoulder to shoulder, and they huddle, hug and shake hands once the prayer ends, with cheek-to-cheek kisses common.

Muslims in the Jakarta satellite city of Bekasi were expected during Friday's prayers to stay at least 1 meter (yard) apart from one another without shaking hands and would hear shorter sermons. No children were allowed to join the prayers, and police and soldiers were there to ensure health protocols such as social distancing and wearing a mask were observed.

Similar scenes were seen in another satellite city of Bogor, and Makassar, one of Indonesia’s big cities on Sulawesi island.

President Joko Widodo said his administration wants Indonesia to remain productive economically but also safe from the virus. He said any measures to start the so-called “new normal” would be based on epidemiological data.

The government has been deploying 340,000 security forces gradually to enforce the health rules as the country prepares to reopen its economy.

Indonesia recorded more than 24,500 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday with nearly 1,500 deaths, the highest fatalities in Southeast Asia.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— MANILA LOCKDOWN EASING: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is relaxing a lockdown in the capital as the economy weakens and the government helps feed millions restricted to their homes. Metropolitan Manila will move to a more relaxed quarantine on Monday after more than two months of police- and military-enforced lockdown. More work and business operations, along with public transport, will be allowed to resume, but physical distancing and other safeguards will be required. Duterte made the televised announcement hours after the Department of Health reported a single-day spike of 539 infections, more than 60% of them in the congested capital. That brought the total number of infections to 15,588, including 921 deaths.

— ANOTHER RECORD JUMP IN INDIA: India registered another record daily increase with 7,466 new coronavirus cases. The Health Ministry's new figures on Friday show India now has 165,799 cases with 4,706 deaths, which both now exceed China. India's two-month lockdown is set to end on Sunday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is expected to issue new guidelines this weekend, possibly extending the lockdown in worst-hit areas as it promotes economic activity. Most cases are concentrated in states with densely populated cities, but cases have been increasing in some of India's poorest eastern states as migrant workers who lost jobs in the cities returned to their native villages.

— THAI RULES EASING: Thai authorities are further relaxing restrictions imposed two months ago to contain the coronavirus. Cinemas, theaters, zoos and aquariums can reopen Monday but must limit the number of admissions. Cinemas can sit a maximum of 200 people at a time, seated at a safe social distance from each other with the exceptions of couples. Other establishments allowed to reopen include massage parlors, gyms, bowling alleys and sports venues. Thailand has had just single-digit increases in cases for most of May. On Friday it announced 11 new cases, bringing the total to 3,076 including 57 deaths.

— WAREHOUSE CONCERNS: South Korea reported 58 new cases in the Seoul area as officials scramble to stem transmissions linked to a massive e-commerce warehouse near the capital. The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,402 infections and 269 deaths. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for officials to examine working conditions at warehouses of online shopping companies and other congested workplaces where infections risks may be high.

— RULES RELAXED FOR CHURCHES: Australia's New South Wales state will allow larger religious gatherings starting Monday. Australia's largest state changed its guidance after Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher noted the rules were unfairly more strict on churches than pubs. Their capacity limits will increase from 10 to 50 people from Monday. “It is crucial that worshipers remember to follow health advice," especially people vulnerable to COVID-19, state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. The state’s chief health officer Kerry Chant advised finding alternatives to practices that might spread the virus, like singing, sharing books and passing around collection plates.

— ONE ACTIVE CASE: New Zealand is down to just one person in the entire nation of 5 million people who is still infected with the coronavirus after no new cases have been detected for the past week. In total, 1,504 people were found to have contracted the virus. Of those, 1,481 have recovered and 22 died. About 275,000 people have been tested. The country has set a goal to eliminate the virus altogether, an ambition aided by a strict lockdown in late March that has been gradually eased in recent weeks.

— NO NEW CASES IN CHINA: China on Friday again reported no new daily increase in cases of coronavirus and no new deaths. Just 70 people remain in hospital being treated for COVID-19 and another 414 are being isolated and monitored for possibly having the disease or for having tested positive without showing any symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from the disease among 82,995 cases.

— THANKS TO MEDICAL WORKERS: A Japanese Air Self-Defense Force’s aerobatics team performed a demonstration flight to express support and gratitude for medical workers. The six Blue Impulse aircraft flew for about 20 minutes over Tokyo to thank medical workers, who have faced discrimination and harassment from those who fear being infected. Japan ended a seven-week state of emergency on Monday. It had 16,719 cases and 874 deaths as of Thursday, according to the health ministry.

By Associated Press 29 May 2020, 12:00AM

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