Three middle-aged men and five minors in the Cerme district of Gresik Regency, East Java, received the unique sentence on September 9, authorities said.
Although wearing masks is mandatory throughout Indonesia, there has been a vocal segment of the population that has been reluctant to wear masks and exercise social distance.
Experts say the lack of public vigilance has made it more difficult for Indonesian authorities to curb the spread of the virus, which to date has infected nearly 230,000 people in the country. More than 160,000 of these patients have recovered, while at least 9,100 have died, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Health.
As cases escalated in recent months, the Indonesian government passed a law in July requiring people to wear masks in public, but left it to local officials to determine penalties for non-compliance. A joint team called the “Three Pillars” – made up of the Indonesian armed forces, the Indonesian National Police and local law enforcement – is responsible for enforcing mask restrictions across the country.
In Cerme, the “three pillars” allow those caught without a mask to accept a fine of 150,000 rupiah ($ 10) or to accept what the government calls “social punishment,” according to district leader Suyono.
Suyono, who goes by one name, told CNN that most people have accepted the social punishment that often involves push-ups or cleaning. But he hopes opportunities like grave digging would be educational and show “first-hand the real and serious impact of Covid-19.” None of the convicts were present when the dead were buried, Suyono said.
Authorities in the capital, Jakarta, adopted a similar idea earlier this month. A man who was required to sit in a coffin in public after being caught without wearing a mask.
However, it is not clear whether these types of sanctions have increased masking in Indonesia. The country has failed to flatten the curve for several months and infections are still rising – only the Philippines has registered more cases in Southeast Asia.
Major social restrictions were imposed in Jakarta on Sunday, the second time authorities have been forced to do so since the pandemic began.
With cases still climbing, the city’s health infrastructure is possibly approaching a breaking point. The emergency units at all 20 Jakarta hospitals approved for the treatment of Covid-19 patients are full, officials said Monday.