JAKARTA • Indonesia yesterday expanded a partial lockdown to more areas near Jakarta, the epicentre of the country's coronavirus cases, as the authorities stepped up efforts to restrict movement of people ahead of the nation's biggest festive season next month.
More than 15 million people living in Bekasi, Bogor and Depok - cities adjoining the national capital - were brought under large-scale social distancing rules.
The stringent measures include a ban on public gatherings of more than five people, religious and social events, and the mandatory use of masks.
Residents of other satellite towns near Jakarta will implement the partial lockdown tomorrow, and Pekanbaru, the first city outside the main island of Java, will roll out the measures on Saturday, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said. That would take the total number of people under tighter distancing rules to 34 million, official data show.
Indonesia President Joko Widodo's administration has ordered airlines to limit the number of passengers to 50 per cent of aircraft capacity to make travel difficult and more costly.
The government is also open to banning an annual exodus ritual of millions of people travelling to their home towns this year, Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said.
"It is not impossible, say by next week or later on, the government may decide against the exodus," Mr Pandjaitan told reporters on Tuesday.
"If the flow of people doesn't subside, we can put a halt to it."
While Mr Joko has rejected calls for the kinds of travel restrictions and regional quarantines imposed in other parts of the world, he has banned government employees, military and police personnel, and those employed by state-owned companies from travelling during Ramadan, while appealing to the public to avoid trips.
Late spring is typically a peak travel time, as roughly one out of every eight Indonesians heads home ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan.
Healthcare experts have called for a ban on the exodus, known as mudik, as it could spread the coronavirus to more areas in the country.
An estimated 19.5 million people travelled to their home towns from big cities such as Jakarta during last year's Eid.
In areas under strict social distancing rules, trains, cars and buses are now allowed to carry only half the seating capacity and public transport is operating for fewer hours.
But the measures currently in place are still not enough to stop the exodus and only an outright ban with stiff penalties can dissuade people from travel, said Mr Darmaningtyas, chairman of the Institute of Transportation Studies.
"People want to go home because there are no jobs in Jakarta and other cities," he said.
"Meanwhile, government aid has yet to be delivered and that's prompting people to return to their villages."
Mr Joko has rolled out a slew of social safety net and income support measures for daily-wage earners, informal-sector workers and street hawkers to prevent them from fleeing the cities.
An estimated 2.8 million people have become jobless after the outbreak of the virus in Indonesia.
The pandemic has killed 469 people in the world's fourth-most populous nation, the most in Asia after China, with more than 5,000 confirmed cases, as of last night.
The Greater Jakarta area is the epicentre of Indonesia's coronavirus outbreak, accounting for more than two-thirds of infections and fatalities, official data showed.