Indonesia’s official COVID-19 case numbers are now well over 140,000. In Southeast Asia, only the Philippines has more cases. As if this picture were not bleak enough, some epidemiologists have suggested that the true figure may be tenfold, citing low testing rates as the main reason for underreporting.

As Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous nation, continues to grapple with a pandemic that its government once believed would never reach its shores, a different kind of “viral” strain is also at work, exacerbating what is already a worrisome situation: disinformation, spread mostly by COVID-19 skeptics in the form of conspiracy theories.

COVID-19 conspiracy theories in Indonesia have three things in common: Firstly, they seek to convince the masses that the virus is a hoax or, if it does exist, that it was engineered for nefarious purposes by the “global elite”. 

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Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya. He is currently working to get his first novel on the May 1998 Riots published. He can be contacted at