The 'ghosts' of Covid-19: how one Indonesian village encourages social distancing

Authorities hope age-old superstition 'pocong' will keep people indoors

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An Indonesian village is using volunteers dressed as ghosts to scare people into social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Wrapped in white cloth and with their faces powdered in pale makeup, the ghoulish "pocong" are patrolling the streets of Kepuh on the island of Java.

Authorities are hoping the age-old superstition will keep people indoors.

The volunteers became a social media sensation when the initiative began this month.

Organisers have since sent the pocong on surprise patrols every few days to catch people who are on the streets.

Resident Karno Supadmo says that since the pocong appeared, children and parents have not left their homes.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has so far resisted a national lockdown, instead urging people to practise social distancing and good hygiene.

But Indonesian researchers have warned the government that plans to allow millions of people to travel to their home villages at the end of Ramadan next month could cause a surge in coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile, a study showed the health system in the world's fourth most populous country was likely to be overwhelmed by demand for intensive care units. even with strong efforts to suppress the outbreak.

Mr Widodo has resisted pressure for a total ban on the Ramadan exodus because of traditional and economic factors.

He has sought to persuade people to stay put and limited their use of transport.

Health experts have said that Indonesia faces a sharp rise in cases after a slow government response hid the scale of infections.

So far 399 people have died  from Covid-19, more than in any Asian country except China.

There are 4,557 known cases of Covid-19 in Indonesia, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.