Jakarta (Agencies) – Millions of Muslims in Indonesia on Tuesday celebrated Idul Adha, one of the most important Islamic festivals, as President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo pledged that tighter coronavirus restrictions would remain in place until infections dropped.
A large number of congregants prayed outside mosques and slaughtered goats to commemorate a somber Idul Adha festival despite efforts to stop mass gatherings as coronavirus deaths skyrocket.
This week marks the second time during the pandemic that Indonesia has celebrated the Feast of Sacrifice, which signals the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Authorities have banned large crowds, including at traditional events that feature the sacrifice of livestock, and urged the public not to gather for acts of religious worship.
In the capital Jakarta and elsewhere, some heeded an official request not to go inside mosques but instead gathered to pray on nearby roads, while residents in Bandung laid out their prayer mats in narrow alleyways outside their homes.
Thousands of others in Banda Aceh assembled in close quarters outside the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, where vendors hawked animal-shaped balloons to families, AFP reported.
COVID-19 cases in Indonesia are currently among the highest in the world due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant, despite the imposition since early this month of the strictest mobility restrictions so far during the pandemic.
President Jokowi advised Indonesians to celebrate Idul Adha at home following strict health protocols to prevent infections. Police and transport authorities have also set up checkpoints to prevent travel in the world's largest Muslim majority nation.
In a streamed statement on the eve of the holiday, Jokowi said movement restrictions will only be lifted once cases have dropped, noting new variants meant the pandemic was not over.
"Imagine if this restriction is loosened and then the cases increase again and the hospitals are unable to contain the patients. This would cause our health facilities to collapse," he said, quoted by Reuters.
The health system in some areas has been pushed to breaking point by a deluge of patients and on Monday Indonesia reported a record 1,338 coronavirus deaths.
Tuesday is the last day of the restriction period in Java and Bali and some other places across the archipelago and the government is expected to announce a decision soon on an extension.
The government has said it wants daily infections to come down to 10,000. While the number of infections on Monday at 34,257 was the lowest since July 6, the positivity rate remained high at 26.9 percent and infections have been repeatedly around 50,000 in the past week when testing rates were higher.
Muslims mark Idul Adha by slaughtering animals such as cattle and goats and the meat is shared among family and also donated to the poor.
Many mosques plan to distribute the meat donation door-to-door to prevent large gatherings, local media reported, though a number of mosque were reported to have flouted the COVID-19 restrictions and held mass prayers.