The East Java administration in Indonesia has revoked its permit that allowed Al Akbar Mosque in Surabaya to hold Eid al-Fitr mass prayers following criticism from experts who warned of the consequences of opening up mosques to large crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
East Java provincial secretary Heru Tjahjono said the administration had sent a letter to Al Akbar Mosque, the largest mosque in the city, that annulled the permit that was signed by Heru on behalf of East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa on May 14.
“Considering Surabaya COVID-19 cases have yet to decrease, with the new letter, we declare our previous letter to Al Akbar Mosque as no longer valid,” he told reporters on Monday.
Al Akbar secretary Helmy M. Noor said the mosque management understood and accepted the governor’s decision.
“To avoid any unintended consequences, Al Akbar Mosque will not perform Idul Fitri (Eid al-Fitr) mass prayers,” he said.
Helmy said Al Akbar, also known as the Great Mosque of Surabaya, had actually planned to limit the number of followers who were allowed to join Eid al-Fitr prayers to only 4,000 people in order to comply with the physical distancing rules. The figure, he said, was 10 times lower than the mosque’s maximum capacity of 40,000 people.
Surabaya city, the hardest hit region in the province, along with its satellite regencies of Sidoarjo and Gresik, previously extended large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) for another 14-day period up until May 25.
The capital city of East Java has seen a continuous rise in COVID-19 cases despite the social restrictions.
Of the 2,281 cases and 224 fatalities in East Java as of Monday, Surabaya recorded 1,109 cases and 132 fatalities, while Sidoarjo had 322 cases and 33 fatalities.
Separately, epidemiologist Windu Purnomo, who leads a team of epidemiologists from Airlangga University’s public health faculty, welcomed the decision to revoke the permit and uphold the restrictions.
However, he said the PSBB would not have a significant impact in flattening the curve of infection if people continued to ignore the rules.
“Ahead of Idul Fitri, we see people flooding malls and supermarkets ignoring physical distancing rules. The government should also pay attention to this,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.