JAKARTA: Police in Indonesia are clamping down on sellers of fake medical certificates, reportedly used to circumvent travel restrictions enforced to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Medical certificates from hospitals or clinics indicating that the holders have tested negative for COVID-19 are required for those who need to travel for business or work amid a ban on “mudik” – the annual homecoming exodus ahead of the Muslim holiday Idul Fitri. 

This has led to fraudulent medical certificates, including those purporting to be from a major Indonesian hospital chain, to be sold for a price between 50,000 to 300,000 rupiah (US$3.37 to US$20.23) each. 

Indonesian police have made seven arrests in Bali so far, but admitted that they have only scratched the surface.

An Indonesian health agency official rests at the entrance to a public toilet as other colleagues

An Indonesian health agency official rests at the entrance to a public toilet as other colleagues conduct COVID-19 testing in Bandung, West Java. (Photo:AFP/Timur Matahari) 

National police spokesman Argo Yuwono told CNA that fake certificates are available online at marketplaces, blogs and social media.

“(Police’s) cybercrime unit is tracking these people down,” the two-star general said, warning that both sellers and buyers of such fraudulent certificates could face charges.

“This is a serious offence.”

General Yuwono said police in all provinces across Indonesia have been told to be on the lookout for similar forged documents

“Our officers were also told to monitor social media to look for people who might be selling or buying forged documents.”

MEDICAL CERTIFICATES TO BOARD JAVA-BOUND FERRIES IN BALI

In a statement, Bali Provincial Police said the seven arrested were suspected of producing and selling fake certificates to dozens of travellers hoping to board a ferry bound for Java at the Gilimanuk port in Bali.

In a raid at the port on Thursday (May 14) evening, authorities grew suspicious that a number of travellers were carrying certificates bearing a letterhead that said “private medical practitioner”.

The signatures on the certificates were inconsistent, despite them being purportedly issued by the same doctor. The stamp mark also appeared to be printed instead of stamped.

The discoveries led to the arrest of three people suspected of selling and producing the fake certificates.

READ: ‘It’s a cat and mouse game’, says Jakarta traffic cop at the frontline of enforcing Idul Fitri travel ban

The other four suspects who produced and sold such certificates were arrested after authorities came across questionable certificates that appeared to be issued by a health clinic in Bali’s capital of Denpasar. 

Despite being issued to different people, all of the certificates carried the exact same diagnosis.   

Among the four arrested was an employee of a printing shop. The Denpasar health clinic had earlier patronised the shop to print stationery, which explained how this employee got hold of the clinic’s logo for the fake certificates. 

The suspects were charged for document forgery and could face a maximum sentence of six years in prison, if convicted.  

THERE IS DEMAND BECAUSE GOVERNMENT ALLOWS TRAVEL: EXPERT

Public policy expert Trubus Rahadiansyah opined that the sale of these forged documents stemmed from the government’s reluctance to impose a blanket ban on intercity travel. 

“As long as people are still allowed to perform business and work-related travel, there will be people selling and buying forged documents and health certificates,” the Trisakti University lecturer told CNA.

A crowd of people with luggages stand in line at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, during the o

A crowd of people stand in line at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, May 14, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)

READ: Indonesia’s blood banks run dry amid COVID-19 pandemic and Ramadan

Mr Rahadiansyah said with a force of just 470,000 officers, police would have a hard time monitoring every road, border, terminal, seaport and airport across the vast archipelago.  

“It is impossible to scrutinise every traveller and examine every document,” he said.

The government had initially banned commercial flights, intercity buses and trains from operating on Apr 24 to stop people from performing mudik.

But the ban was later lifted on May 7 with the government explaining that state officials, representatives of international organisations, businessmen and professionals still need to conduct business trips.    

“The government should have at least suspended all trips until the mudik season is over. The priority right now should be to stop COVID-19 from spreading from big cities like Jakarta to small towns and villages,” he said.

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