'It's our nation's right to rely on the Almighty': Minister justifies calling for prayers in coronavirus battle

PHOTO: The Jakarta Post

Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto has reiterated the importance of praying amid the country's ongoing battle against China's coronavirus (COVID-19), saying that the weary public should use religion as a guiding principle in turbulent times.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Terawan answered questions regarding his previous statements in which he suggested that prayers were among reasons why Indonesia had been able to confirm zero coronavirus cases to date amid the global outbreak, which had spread to most other Southeast Asian countries.

"In accordance with [state ideology] Pancasila, our country believes in God. No matter the religion, as long as we uphold Pancasila, praying is of utmost importance. We work and pray. It's an honourable thing," Terawan said.

"If there are other countries protesting [our approach], just let them; it is our nation's right to rely on the Almighty," he said. "Why should we be ashamed of relying on the Almighty? We should not be ashamed of praying."

As of Monday -- more than a month since COVID-19 spread globally from the Chinese city of Wuhan -- Indonesia has avoided having any confirmed cases, unlike its neighbouring countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, which have recorded dozens of infections.

More than 200 evacuees from Wuhan and the surrounding cities of Hubei province were declared free of coronavirus and discharged on Saturday after a 14-day quarantine in Natuna, Riau Islands. Terawan also previously said that prayers were among the contributing factors for the successful quarantine.

The zero confirmed cases, however, had raised concern among scientists that the virus might have been spreading in Indonesia undetected.

A study conducted by researchers from Harvard University suggested that Indonesia should have already confirmed from one to 10 cases of the new coronavirus, given the high average daily air-travel volumes from Wuhan to the country. Terawan, however, had dismissed the study and said "it's insulting". 

Terawan also responded to questions on Monday regarding why the government had only tested a total of 104 specimens for suspected coronavirus cases so far -- 102 of which had tested negative, with two awaiting results -- saying that it was done for "budget efficiency" reasons.

"We have to be rational; we have to avoid any inefficient budgeting. If I have to check everyone who coughs, what would the budget be?" he said, adding that the government tested those who had shown symptoms, had travel records and contacts with infected countries or people.

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As of Monday, COVID-19 had killed more than 1,700 people, including five outside of mainland China. The far-flung virus has spread to nearly 30 countries, with tens of thousands of infections recorded globally.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.