Indonesia halts Islamic assembly, quarantining 9,000 people

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Pilgrims make their way through the crowd on a field where a mass congregation is supposed to be held in Gowa, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Indonesia halted the congregation of thousands of Muslim pilgrims and began quarantining and checking their health Thursday to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Syaief)

MAKASSAR – Indonesia halted a mass congregation of nearly 9,000 Muslim pilgrims and began quarantining them and checking their health Thursday to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus amid a spike in cases.

The four-day gathering at a boarding school in a rural area in south Sulawesi province wasn't approved by authorities and drew fears it could spread the virus widely in the world's fourth most populous nation.

It was organized by a Muslim missionary movement, Jamaat Tabligh, which held a similar event in Malaysia three weeks ago that has been linked to nearly two-thirds of that country's 900 infections as well as dozens of cases in other nations.

South Sulawesi Gov. Nurdin Abdullah said medical teams screening more than 8,600 participants found a local man with fever who was taken to a hospital.

“We've worked hard in dealing with this issue, involving religious leaders and security forces. We have told the pilgrims that we are in an emergency state of coronavirus and only common discipline can break the COVID-19's wide spread,” Abdullah said.

The move came as Indonesia reported six more deaths for a total of 25, the most in Southeast Asia, and its biggest daily jump of 82 cases to 309.

Pictures and videos posted by some participants on social media showed long rows of blue makeshift tents on a field at the school. Devotees in long white robes and skullcaps sat close to each other or slept on mats on the ground.

Sentot Abu Thoriq, a member of the organizing committee, said he regretted the government's decision to reject the event that had been planned more than a year ago. He said those who are ill have been told to stay away, and noted that those arriving would have passed stringent health checks at the country's airports and sea ports.