A village in Indonesia has made local and international headlines after taking the enforcement of social distancing to a whole new, dramatically unorthodox level.
Kepuh, located in Sukoharjo, Central Java is deploying volunteers as “ghosts” to patrol the streets at night and ensure that people follow restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The “ghosts” represent entities in Indonesian folklore known as “pocong,” which are souls believed to be trapped in the physical world. They wear the remnants of a burial shroud tied at the head and feet.
“The pocong is not to scare residents; instead, we want to educate residents on the fact that coronavirus causes death. It is a shock therapy, as people usually [pay more attention] to anything related to death,” Anjar Panca, keeper of a local mosque, told the Jakarta Post.
The strategy, which came into effect last month, seems to be working. Interestingly, Kepuh residents themselves reportedly sought for the deployment of the “ghosts.”
“Since the pocong appeared, parents and children have not left their homes,” resident Karno Supadmo told Reuters. “And people will not gather or stay on the streets after evening prayers.”
It’s unclear whether Kepuh has confirmed any case of COVID-19, but Central Java recently reported 75 new cases, contributing to a total of 4,839 cases in Indonesia.
“Residents still lack awareness about how to curb the spread of COVID-19 disease. They want to live like normal so it is very difficult for them to follow the instruction to stay at home,” Kepuh head Priyadi told Reuters.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared the coronavirus pandemic a national disaster on Monday. He announced a COVID-19 task force that would mitigate the impact of the outbreak through coordinated efforts with ministries, government agencies, and regional administrations, according to CNN.
Kepuh’s unconventional risk-prevention plan has since drawn mixed reactions on the internet.
“Employing ghosts might work in places with rural poor who are relatively uneducated and have strong beliefs in traditional folklore,” a Twitter user commented. “In general, something different’s probably more effective like the police or a huge fine. Would love to see it though.”
Another chimed in, “Truly a case of ‘whatever it takes’ to keep people at home and safe.”
One added, “Seems effective, if it can help why not!”