The US Geological Survey says the magnitude 5.8 quake just before midnight Saturday was centered 64 kilometers northwest of Central Sulawesi province's Pendolo town, at a depth of 10 kilometers.

In this file photo, a man walks on a badly-affected area after earthquake at Sigi sub-district in Palu, Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 2, 2018.
In this file photo, a man walks on a badly-affected area after earthquake at Sigi sub-district in Palu, Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 2, 2018. (Reuters)

A strong inland and shallow earthquake hit late on Saturday night causing people to panic in parts of Indonesia's Sulawesi island and run to higher ground despite health officials asking for social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus. 

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The US Geological Survey says the magnitude 5.8 quake just before midnight Saturday was centred 64 kilometres northwest of Central Sulawesi province's Pendolo town, at a depth of 10 kilometres.

Indonesia's national disaster agency says the land-based earthquake didn't have any potential to cause a tsunami.

Still, many people in the provincial capital of Palu ran to higher ground. 

Many residents are haunted by the memory of a devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake in the city two years ago that set off a tsunami as well as a phenomenon called liquefaction in which wet soil is collapsed by the shaking.

Authorities have asked people to stay away from each other to slow the spread of coronavirus and stopped people as they ran. Two residents in the city have tested positive for Covid-19.

"A strong earthquake had jolted Palu, but we were stopped when run out of the house for fear of being exposed to a coronavirus," said a resident identified as Ardy on Twitter.

"Living in a disaster-prone area is awry," he said.

He said many people who run in panic did not heed authorities who appealed to return home, until the situation return to normal an hour later.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 260 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

The country's latest tally reported a total of 102 deaths from Covid-19.

Source: AP