A video showing church leaders in Mimika, Papua burning masks and declaring they do not believe in COVID-19 and its vaccines are making national headlines in Indonesia, but a local official said today that the controversial scene has been taken out of context.
The viral clip showed dozens of people gathering before a bonfire, with formally-dressed men presumed to be church leaders standing at the front. The men were holding up masks in their hands, while one of the main speakers appeared to be holding a vaccine vial.
At one point in the 3-minute clip, one of the men said: "We do not believe in vaccines, vaccines and corona."
The same man also likened COVID-19 to the devil in the video, and said that the viral disease will not lose to God's power. Not long after, the men tossed the masks and vaccine vial into the fire, with spectators around them – who were without masks and were not observing social distancing – cheering on. According to reports, the video was taken in Kwamki Narama district on Sunday and that the people were members of the GKII church.
Kwamki Narama District Chief Hence Suebu said today the event was "symbolic" and not meant to be taken literally.
"So in a meeting they [said] they believe that COVID-19 is real. The purpose of their action [in the video] was religious symbolism," Hence said, as quoted by Fajar Papua.
"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 can be decimated through the blood of Jesus, that COVID can be destroyed through their service. But after that activity they still follow health protocols."
Hence also offered an apology to the residents of Mimika for the spread of the unsettling video.
"The initial mistake is because there's no narration in the video and so people thought this is a form of anti-government activity, but it's actually not, they are very obedient with health protocols," he said.