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Indonesian churches warned after Covid-19 cluster shock

Anti-virus body says places of worship among locations blamed for being centers of new infections

Indonesian churches warned after Covid-19 cluster shock

A parishioner of Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral Church in Jakarta washes her hands before entering the church’s complex to attend Sunday Mass on July 12. (Photo: Katharina R. Lestari/UCA News)

Places of worship, including churches, are among new clusters of Covid-19 transmission that have emerged in Indonesia, particularly in capital Jakarta, a top government official has warned.

According to Dewi Nur Aisyah, a member of Indonesia’s Covid-19 Task Force, new clusters have emerged in several areas since local authorities began easing social restrictions imposed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic early last month.

“There are nine new clusters with 114 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Places of worship are among them,” she said in a video message on July 29.

She pointed to three churches with 29 confirmed Covid-19 cases as well as three mosques with 11 cases, a clergy house with 41, an Islamic boarding school with four cases and an Islamic prayer gathering where 29 cases were traced back to.

“If there is a social activity or a gathering, people must make sure that health protocols are followed. Stay alert, the proof is here. A cluster can affect so many people,” she said without giving further details.

Reverend Gomar Gultom, chairman of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), said news that churches were responsible for new clusters of Covid-19 transmissions in the capital was disturbing.

“This is something we do not want to happen. Since local authorities began to ease social restrictions, the PGI has stressed the need for churches not to rush to reopen. It would be better if Protestants could attend Sunday services at home,” he told UCA News.

Churches should review their decisions to reopen, he said. “If they must resume Sunday services, I want them to strictly follow health protocols and to hold short services,” he added.

Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta responded to the cluster revelation by reminding churches in Jakarta Archdiocese to remain alert.

“After obtaining a green light to reopen from local authorities, a parish should obtain approval first from the archdiocese before reopening. The vicar general will then inspect the parish to evaluate its readiness to do so,” he told UCA News.
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“None of our parishes was among these new clusters.” 

At least 13 out of 66 parishes in the archdiocese, including Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral Church in Jakarta, have resumed public Sunday Masses since July 12 after being closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As of July 30, Jakarta had recorded 20,572 out of 106,000 Covid-19 cases in Indonesia and 798 out of 5,056 deaths.

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