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In Indonesia, False Virus Cures Pushed by Better Knowers

First, Indonesia’s agriculture minister promoted the wearing of a necklace containing a eucalyptus potion to cure the coronavirus. Not to be outdone, the governor of Bali, a popular locality island, came up with his own remedy: extracting steam from boiled arak, a traditional alcohol made from nuts.

So-called influencers and self-stylized experts have also forced their quack cures and misinformation on Indonesian social media, including widespread rumors that popular infrared thermometer guns cause brain damage.

As Indonesia steadily loses ground to the pandemic, the government has struggled to deliver a consistent, science-based message about coronavirus and the disease it causes, Covid-1


On Friday, Indonesia had reported more than 108,000 cases and more than 5,130 deaths, which surpassed China in both categories.

However even in the hard-hit provinces, up to 70 percent of people go without masks and ignore the requirements of social alienation, according to the government, they often enter shops and markets and hang out in many cafes. and restaurants.

Indonesia is not the only country that is fighting misinformation or whose leaders have promoted quack remedies. The World Health Organization has called the ubiquity of dangerous false information “infodemic.”

In Kenya, the governor of Nairobi pushed cognac as a miraculous cure. President Trump has continued to promote hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria, as a coronavirus remedy despite medical evidence to the contrary. He even suggested that “injecting inside” into the human body with a disinfectant such as bleach could help fight the virus.

But Indonesia is unique because of its large population, expansive geography across thousands of islands and a mix of cultural identities. It would be difficult enough for the government to implement a clear and unified plan to fight the virus, but things have been aggravated by the promotion of perforated and often dangerous information.

The country’s president, Joko Widodo, had initially linked the pandemic and sent mixed messages. In March he admitted he had misled the public about the virus to avoid panic. After that, he was slowly shutting down businesses and schools and limiting travel, but he was quick to lift restrictions even as cases continued to rise.

In May, he said Indonesia should learn to live with the virus. A month later, however, he threatened to stop cabinet ministers for not doing more to put the pandemic under control.

This month, he called for a national campaign to promote better discipline in social distance, wearing masks and hand washing.

In the absence of a unified message from the national government, local officials and opportunists filled the gap.

An official who has promoted a dubious remedy is agriculture minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo. He told reporters this month that a ministry lab has developed a position made of eucalyptus that when worn on a necklace can kill 80 percent of virus particles in half an hour.

“Out of 700 species of eucalyptus, the results of our laboratory test showed that one type can kill the crown,” he said. “We’re sure. We’ll produce it next month.”

His claim was quickly contradicted by health experts, including the head of the lab that developed the aromatic potion, which he said was not effective against the coronavirus. But that didn’t stop others from promoting it.

A popular singer, Iis Dahlia, met Mr. Joko while she was looking to recruit celebrities to help with his health campaign. Soon after, she informed her 12 million Instagram followers that she was proud to wear the amulet.

“This eucalyptus necklace,” she said, “makes me feel safe and protected from the virus.”

In Bali, the governor, I Wayan Koster, promoted a local treatment: smelling the steam of boiled arak, a traditional alcoholic beverage. Because if you stay on trend, he also recommends adding a dash of eucalyptus oil.

The governor, who has a Ph.D. in education and described himself as a former “researcher,” he said at a news conference last week that nearly 80 percent of those who removed the concussion tested negative earlier than expected.

The treatment was not subject to scientific testing, but he said he hopes Bali will be able to verify and produce it.

The government’s keynote speaker for coronavirus, Wiku Adisasmito, urged the public to follow health guidelines and not to rely on superstition and half-baked treatments, even when they come out of public officials and celebrities.

“In times of emergency, we all need real honest and scientific facts to bring us hope, calm and clarity,” said Mr Adisasmito, a professor of health policy at the University of Indonesia.

Jusuf Kalla, a former vice president who now heads the Indonesian Red Cross, said the country has slowed down in the fight against the pandemic in part because health minister Terawan Agus Putranto has downplayed the pandemic. its gravity.

“Until March, Minister Terawan was like Trump, saying,‘ Oh, this is just a simple flu, ’Mr Kalla said. “But now, Minister Terawan is very realistic. Ministers and governors are trying to find solutions in an uncertain situation. It is trial and error. “

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, and some citizens and officials have invoked their faith to promote treatments and guide their knowledge of the disease.

On Lombok Island, a top official suggested dropping loose, loose Islamic veils women, were as effective at preventing the spread of the virus as well as tightly fitting medical facial masks.

“The advantage of the niqab is more ease of breathing,” Suhaili Fadhil Thohir, the regent of Central Lombok, explained in an interview.

However, the Covid task force for the province, West Nusa Tenggara, continues to call for face masks, said Artanto, a police spokesman and a member of the task force.

“The regent still wears a mask, not a niqab,” said Mr Artanto, who like many Indonesians uses one name. “We continue to educate people to wear a mask.”

For many Muslims, the Covid-19 burial protocol of wrapping the body tightly in plastic and burial in a chosen cemetery was difficult to accept. According to tradition, members of the Muslim family wash the corpse of the deceased and benefit it with a burial cloth.

Authorities say there have been many cases across the country of families refusing doctors’ warnings and taking Covid-positive bodies for burial.

In Mataram, the main town of Lombok, relatives of a woman who died in a motorbike accident this month refused to believe doctors who said they tested positive.

About 100 men fled to the Mataram government hospital to demand the corpse. Officials tried to explain the importance of burial protocols. But they were numerous wrong, and the men took the body, put it in some taxi and stressed.

“It happens all over Indonesia,” Mr Artanto said. “Their understanding as people living in the village is different from those of us who live in the city.”

Mr Adisasmito said Islamic burial traditions were strong, and that it was difficult for people to accept that they should be changed. He compared Americans to refusing to wear a mask because they hinder their pre-pandemic freedom, habits and way of life.

“We live in a different globe,” he said, “and different communities have distinctive values ​​that hold them together.”

Muktita Suhartono and Dera Menra Sijabat contributed to the reporting.

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