JAKARTA, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Indonesia's capital Jakarta is threatening residents with fines of up to 5 million rupiah ($356.89) for refusing COVID-19 vaccines, an unusually stiff penalty aimed at ensuring compliance with a new regulation making inoculations mandatory.
Deputy Jakarta governor Ahmad Riza Patria said city authorities were merely following rules and such sanctions were a last resort in Jakarta, which accounts for about a quarter of the archipelago nation's more than 1.2 million coronavirus infections.
"If you reject it, there are two things, social aid will not be given, (and a) fine," Riza told reporters.
Indonesia is fighting one of Asia's biggest and most stubborn coronavirus epidemics and aims to inoculate 181.5 million of its 270 million population within 15 months under a vaccination programme that started last month.
Nearly 34,000 Indonesians are known to have died from the virus.
Indonesia announced a presidential order earlier this month stipulating anyone who refuses vaccines could be denied social assistance or government services or made to pay a fine.
The penalty would be determined by regional health agencies or by local governments.
"Sanctions are our last effort to encourage people's participation," Health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi said. "The target of 181.5 million people is huge."
The new regulation follows months of public skepticism and lingering doubts about whether coronavirus vaccines are safe, effective and halal, or permissible by Islam.
Public health experts say public jitters about the vaccine could be a stumbling bloc, while health agencies in West Java, Indonesia's most populous province, and West Nusa Tenggara have told Reuters they had no plans to enforce sanctions.
A December survey by pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting showed only 37% of 1,202 respondents were willing to be vaccinated, 40% were undecided and 17% would refuse.
Usman Hamid, a director at Amnesty International Indonesia, said enforcing vaccinations were not the answer.
"A blanket mandate on vaccination, especially one that includes criminal penalties, is a clear violation of human rights," Hamid said. (Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Martin Petty)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.