This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
As the Indonesian central government devises and implements overarching policies to combat the coronavirus, regional governments are coming up with more creative solutions to get people to stay indoors.
President Joko Widodo announced yesterday that the mass exodus of citizens from larger cities to their hometowns during Ramadan, known locally as mudik, will likely no longer happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The partial lockdown of large cities like Jakarta has led to people leaving for less densely populated areas earlier. Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims, starts on Thursday, April 23.
The regional government of Sragen in Central Java is now prepared for those who still plan to travel there, implementing an unusual strategy to spook people into staying indoors.
Sragen Mayor Kusdinar Sukowati has asked all the subdistricts under her jurisdiction to designate abandoned homes and equip them with beds to hold quarantine breakers, specifically asking for the creepiest, most haunted-looking houses available. Anyone who defies the president’s order by returning to Sragen and refusing to quarantine, would be sent to one of these homes.
Sragen currently has five confirmed coronavirus cases, all of which came from out of town, and Sukowati is determined to keep those numbers down.
In an official statement, President Widodo announced that 7 percent of potential mudik-ers have already returned to their respective hometowns, 24 percent still had plans to travel home, and 68 percent would be staying put. The Katadata Insight Center estimates that this 24 percent is equal to 3 million Indonesians. Widodo went on to explain that the purpose of the statement was to convince people to stay where they are.
Sukowati, on the other hand, has not outrightly banned her constituents from returning home, but is requiring such individuals to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arriving at Sragen. If they are caught leaving their home before the 14 days are up, they will be sent to one of the haunted houses for the remainder of the incubation period. Currently, five residents are being held in these houses.
“Two residents of Plupuh [a district in Sragen] agreed to self-quarantine, but violated that commitment. As a result, the two individuals were placed in an empty home that was locked from the outside. If they had obeyed the self-quarantine order, it would not have come to this,” Sukowati told local media.
“After consulting with the mayor, we were given the green light to impose quarantine on stubborn travelers. We chose buildings that had not been occupied in a long time and were believed to be haunted. We cleaned them up and equipped them with beds,” said Mulayono, head of one of the villages in Sukowati’s district.
Heri Susanto, a local who ended up in one of these houses, expressed regret that he broke quarantine shortly after returning to Sragen.
“My child asked me for a toy, so I went into town to find it. On my way back home, I was caught by a watchman, just like that. I complied [with the consequence], and I regret what I did. I couldn’t see my family, but I know this is for the sake of safety,” Susanto told local media.
Just last week, an Indonesian village in Central Java made headlines for employing volunteers dressed as ghosts to frighten quarantine violators into staying home. The strategy, which was endorsed by local police, was deemed effective because it took advantage of Indonesians’ penchant for the mystical.