Volunteers are beginning to dress up as ghosts and lurking at night to scare people into sticking to coronavirus lockdowns in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Wearing white bed sheets, the ‘ghosts’ have been seen jumping out at unsuspecting passersby in dark streets, standing on top of vehicles in deserted car parks and sitting on benches in public spaces.
It is one of the most bizarre measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, but it reflects an age-old superstition in parts of Southeast Asia.
Known as “pocong”, the ghostly figures are typically wrapped in white shrouds with powdered faces and kohl-rimmed eyes, and they represent the trapped souls of the dead.
Kepuh village, on Java island has deployed a cast of “ghosts” to patrol the streets and promote social distancing.
Anjar Pancaningtyas, head of a youth group that coordinated with police, said: “We wanted to be different and create a deterrent effect because ‘pocong’ are spooky and scary.”
But when they first started appearing this month they had the opposite effect.
Instead of keeping people in they brought them out to catch a glimpse of the apparitions.
The organisers have since changed tack, launching surprise pocong patrols, with village volunteers playing the part of the ghosts.
President Joko Widodo has resisted a national lockdown to curb the coronavirus, instead urging people to practice social distancing and good hygiene.
But with the highest rate of coronavirus deaths in Asia after China, some communities, such as Kepuh village, have decided to take measures into their own hands, imposing the ghostly patrols, lockdowns and restricting movement in and out of their village.
Village head Priyadi said: “Residents still lack awareness about how to curb the spread of Covid-19 disease.
“They want to live like normal so it is very difficult for them to follow the instruction to stay at home.”
There are now more than 4,500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Indonesia, and 399 deaths, with fears the numbers will rise significantly.
Researchers at the University of Indonesia estimate there could be 140,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases by May without tougher curbs on movement.
When a Reuters journalist recently visited Kepuh village, the supernatural strategy seemed to be working, with villagers running off in fright when the ghosts materialised.
Resident Karno Supadmo said: “Since the pocong appeared, parents and children have not left their homes.
“And people will not gather or stay on the streets after evening prayers.”
In the state of Terengganu in Malaysia, Muhammad Urabil Alias dressed as a bearded ghost to scare his young neighbours into complying with a lockdown and was seen standing on top of a car.
A creepy photo taken by his wife, Norhayati Nayan, 39, went viral on Facebook.
But he got a fright of his own when armed police officers, all wearing face masks, later knocked on his door in Chukai.
He thought he was in trouble, but the police were there to thank him for helping to enforce the lockdown.
In a Facebook post, the 38-year-old wrote: “If the other day people were scared of the ghost. Today, the ghost is scared when it was ambushed by Kemaman district police’s black Hilux team.”
He told the New Straits Times: “I thought that the men in blue, dressed in their full police gear, had wanted to arrest me. They asked if I was the one who had dressed up like a ghost intending to scare youngsters into staying at home.” (Strange but true/scooper)