Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

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Relawan Merahb Putih handed over their assistance to officials in the Duma village of North Maluku regency during a campaign to spread awareness of the pandemic. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
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Microbiologist and volunteer adviser Jubhar Mangimbulude explains about the coronavirus to villagers during the awareness campaign. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
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Microbiologist and volunteer adviser Jubhar Mangimbulude explains about the coronavirus to villagers during the awareness campaign. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
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Microbiologist and volunteer adviser Jubhar Mangimbulude explains about the coronavirus to villagers during the awareness campaign. (Photo credit: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)
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Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.


Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

Updated 18 September 2020

Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

  • The British PM said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in”
  • Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China

MADRID: A host of European countries imposed new local restrictions on Friday to reduce spiralling new cases of coronavirus as they seek to avoid the example of Israel which enforced a second nationwide shutdown.
City authorities in Madrid announced a partial lockdown on nearly a million people, the British government unveiled new measures limiting social contact in several regions, while Ireland banned indoor dining at restaurants and pubs in Dublin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in” as he toured the site of a new vaccine center.
“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe — it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country,” he added.
In France, where new daily cases hit a fresh record of 13,000 on Friday, the government is struggling to create enough testing capacity as new hotspots emerge daily.
The city of Nice on the Riviera banned groups of more than 10 people meeting on its beach, in parks or public gardens.
Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while more than 30.2 million cases have been registered.
“We’re adding about 1.8 to two million cases per week to the global case count, and an average somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.
“Thankfully that is not rising exponentially. This is a hugely high figure to be settling at. That is not where we want to be.”
In Madrid, one of the worst affected areas in Europe during the first wave of Covid-19 in March and April, medics warned that hospitals were getting close to capacity again.
“Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients,” Santiago Usoz, an accident and emergency medic at the October 12 hospital, told AFP.
A partial lockdown was announced for residents of several areas in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in the south of the capital which will come into force on Monday.
People will only be allowed to leave their zone to go to work, seek medical care or take their children to school, while bars and restaurants will have to reduce their capacity by 50 percent, the regional government of Madrid said.
Rules preventing people from socialising with anyone from outside their household were imposed in northeast England on Friday, putting more than two million people under new restrictions.
These will be extended to other parts of northwest, northern and central England from Tuesday.
“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday.
Music legend Van Morrison made his frustration known on Friday, saying he had recorded three “protest songs” called “Born To Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown.”
Israel has become the first major country to impose another national shutdown which began on Friday, hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and wil last for three weeks.
The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 meters of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur.
“The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed,” said 60-year-old Yael, one of hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.
“And all this for what? For nothing!“
Meanwhile, most of a group of more than a thousand Orthodox Jewish pilgrims who had camped along the border between Ukraine and Belarus left on Friday after being refused entry due to coronavirus rules.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
In the United States, US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden continued to trade barbs over the handling of the pandemic.
Trump has expressed confidence that a viable Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by October, directly contradicting a top administration health expert
Elsewhere, new details emerged about a wedding in rural Maine in August which became a so-called “superspreader” event that left seven people dead and 177 infected.
The nuptials at a church and hotel near the picturesque town of Millinocket were attended by 65 people, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed at a gathering.