A video circulating this week in Indonesia showing Christian leaders praying over a bonfire and burning sanitary masks has caused alarm, the Asian outlet Coconuts reported on Wednesday, as one of the men praying can be heard asserting, “we do not believe in vaccines.”
Indonesia has documented one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in the world, having diagnosed over 3.5 million cases of the disease as of Wednesday. Over 100,000 people have died of coronavirus there since the pandemic began. The government’s response to the pandemic has largely consisted of inconsistent lockdowns, the promotion of dubious “cures,” and a poorly managed vaccine rollout.
The number of documented coronavirus cases is under significant scrutiny as the government revealed that in at least one airport in the country – Kualanamu Airport in North Sumatra, local authorities had been testing visitors for coronavirus with used antigen kits for three months between February and May. Police arrested five medical workers for the practice but it remains unclear if authorities ever recalibrated the number of confirmed cases or retracted the 9,000 people tested incorrectly in this manner after the scandal erupted.
The event in the video reportedly occurred on Sunday on the island of Papua and featured 23 different Christian denominations. The pastors in the video can be heard saying, “We do not believe in vaccines, vaccines, and corona” and boasting that the churches participating had not closed down during the pandemic.
“We do not believe in vaccines with corona, because in the name of Jesus Christ’s blood they are defeated by the power of Satan,” another Indonesian outlet quoted a pastor as saying in the video. The group appeared to burn sanitary masks and a vial seeming to carry a dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
According to Coconuts, the video has prompted some outrage in Indonesia – the world’s largest majority-Muslim country – resulting in locals explaining that the event was meant as a symbolic prayer to defeat the pandemic, not to deny the existence of the virus or the ability of masks and vaccines to help prevent cases.
“What appears in the video is a type of prayer [for] release, that the [religious] service they conducted they are releasing [the promise that] COVID [Chinese coronavirus] can be decimated through the blood of Jesus, that COVID can be destroyed through their service,” Kwamki Narama District Chief Hence Suebu, a local government official, told Indonesian media, as translated by Coconuts. “But after that activity, they still follow health protocols.”
Hence described the ceremony as “symbolic,” implying the vial did not actually contain a coronavirus vaccine. He added that the group was “very obedient” with safety recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus, though the group appeared to be a large crowd of unmasked people. It remains unknown if those in attendance had received a Chinese coronavirus vaccine.
The Indonesian government has been largely inconsistent in implementing coronavirus protocol nationwide. While Papua is a more remote island from the main metropolitan and tourism areas, Bali, the crown jewel of Indonesia’s tourism industry, has attempted to implement strict protocol including warning parents not to allow children out of the house in the hopes to maintain it as an economic engine.
“Children should stay home. Even if they must be taken outside it must be with strict health protocols, avoid the crowds and use masks for children above two years old,” I Gusti Lanang Sidiartha, the director of the Indonesian Pediatric Society in Bali, asserted in June. The recommendation prompted confusion as most international public health experts believe that the Chinese coronavirus is much less contagious in outdoor, highly ventilated settings. The strict limitations on locals – which in at least one village included the threat of exile for the unvaccinated – also appeared to contradict Indonesia’s attempts at luring foreign tourists to Bali with promises of relatively normal, relaxing getaways.
Among the more dubious national coronavirus policies the government has promoted is the use of an “antivirus necklace” the Ministry of Agriculture claimed last year could protect people from the virus.
“It was [developed] by Balitbangtan. From 700 species of eucalyptus, our lab test results showed that one kind could kill the coronavirus. We are certain,” Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo said at the time, claiming that 15 minutes of wearing the eucalyptus necklace could kill “42 percent of the coronavirus.” He did not elaborate on what exactly he meant by 42 percent of the virus.
The Indonesian Health Ministry did not endorse the Agriculture Ministry’s claims.