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In Indonesia, fake viruses are cured by those who should know better

First, the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture promoted the wearing of a necklace containing a eucalyptus potion to cure the coronavirus. The governor of Bali, a popular resort on the island, did not care and enforced his own medicine: inhaling steam from boiled arrack, a traditional alcohol made from coconuts.

So-called influencers and self-imitation experts have also pushed their own quackery treatments and misinformation on Indonesian social media, including the widespread rumor that popular infrared thermometer guns are causing brain damage.

As Indonesia gives way to a pandemic, the government has had trouble delivering a consistent, scientifically sound reference to coronavirus and the disease it causes, Covid-1


Indonesia reported more than 108,000 cases and more than 5,130 deaths on Friday, surpassing China in both categories.

Nevertheless, even in the severely affected provinces, up to 70 percent of people without masks leave and ignore demands for social distance. According to the government, it is often pushed into shops and markets and hangs in busy cafes and restaurants.

Indonesia is not the only country to fight misinformation or whose leaders have pushed for redress. The World Health Organization has called the ubiquity of dangerous false information an “infodema.”

In Kenya, Governor Nairobi pushed cognac as a miracle cure. President Trump continued to promote hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria, as an anti-coronavirus drug, despite medical evidence to the contrary. He even suggested that “injection into the human body” with a disinfectant such as bleach could help fight the virus.

However, Indonesia is unique due to its large population, extensive geography on thousands of islands and a mixture of cultural identities. It would be quite difficult for the government to implement a clear and coherent plan to combat the virus, but the problems have been exacerbated by the promotion of confusing and often dangerous information.

Country President Joko Widodo initially downplayed the pandemic and issued mixed reports. In March, he admitted that he was misleading the public about the virus to prevent panic. He then slowly closed businesses and schools and restricted travel, but quickly removed restrictions, although cases continued to rise.

He said in May that Indonesia should learn to live with the virus. A month later, however, he threatened to fire cabinet ministers for not doing more to bring the pandemic under control.

This month, he called for a national campaign to promote better discipline in the areas of social distance, mask wear and hand washing.

If the administration is not unified by the national government, the gaps have been filled by local officials and opportunists.

One of the officials who promoted the dubious means is the Minister of Agriculture, Syahrul Yasin Limpo. He told reporters this month that a ministerial laboratory had developed a potion made of eucalyptus that could kill 80 percent of virus particles in half an hour when worn on a necklace.

“Of the 700 species of eucalyptus, our laboratory test results have shown that one species can kill the corona,” he said. “We are sure. We’ll make it next month. “

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

Popular singer Iis Dahlia met with Mr. Joko as he tried to attract celebrities to help him in his health campaign. Soon after, she informed her 12 million Instagram followers that she was proud to wear an amulet.

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

Governor I Wayan Koster in Bali supported a local treatment: inhaling steam boiling arrack, a traditional alcoholic beverage. As if to stay on the trend, he also recommends adding a piece of eucalyptus oil.

A governor who holds a Ph.D. in education and described himself as a former “researcher,” he told a news conference last week that nearly 80 percent of those who inhaled the mixture tested the negative test sooner than expected.

The treatment has not been subjected to scientific testing, but he said he hoped Bali could patent and manufacture it.

A top government coronavirus spokesman, Wiku Adisasmito, called on the public to adhere to health guidelines and not rely on superstitions and semi-baked treatments, even if they came from public officials and celebrities.

“In emergencies, we all need honest, science-based, real facts to bring us hope, peace and clarity,” said Mr Adisasmito, a professor of health policy at the University of Indonesia.

Yusuf Kalla, a former vice president who now leads the Indonesian Red Cross, said the country was slowly fighting the pandemic, in part because its health ministry, Terawan Agus Putranto, minimized its severity.

“Until March, Minister Terawan was like Trump and said, ‘Oh, it’s just a simple flu,” Mr Kalla said. “But now Minister Terawan is very realistic. Ministers and governors are trying to come up with solutions in a precarious situation. It’s an attempt. and error. “

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, and some citizens and officials have relied on their faith to promote medicines and guide their understanding of the disease.

On Lombok, the top official suggested that the niqabs loosen the Islamic veils women were as effective in preventing the spread of the virus as cozy medical face masks.

“The advantage of the niqab is easier breathing,” Fadhil Thohir, the regent of central Lombok, told Suhaili.

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

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

It was difficult for many Muslims to accept the funeral protocol from Covid-19, in which the body is firmly wrapped in plastic and buried in a designated cemetery. According to tradition, members of a Muslim family wash the body of the deceased and wrap it in a cloth for burial.

Authorities say there have been many cases in the country’s families that have rejected doctors’ warnings and brought the bodies of Covid-positive homes to the funeral.

In the capital of Lombok, Matarama, relatives of a woman who died in a motorcycle accident this month refused to believe doctors who said she had tested positive.

About 100 men attacked Mataram’s government hospital to claim the body. Officers tried to explain the meaning of the funeral protocols. But they were badly numbered, and the men took the body, put it in a taxi, and left.

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

Mr Adisasmito said that Islamic funeral traditions were deep-rooted and that it was difficult for people to accept that they had to change. He likened it to Americans who refuse to wear a mask because it hinders their “pre-pandemic freedom, custom, and way of life.”

“We live in a diverse planet,” he said, “and different communities have the distinctive values ​​they hold.”

Muktita Suhartono and Dera Menra Sijabat contributed the news.

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