Coronavirus: Indonesia bans annual Hari Raya Aidilfitri exodus for all residents

Indonesian President Joko Widodo cited a survey that said 24 per cent of Indonesians were insisting on joining the exodus back to their hometowns. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - The Indonesian government decided on Tuesday (April 21) to ban a massive exodus ahead of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri holiday, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus from Jakarta, the epicentre of the outbreak, and other high-risk regions to the rest of the vast archipelago.

In an address to a Cabinet meeting just a few days before the start of the Ramadan fasting month, President Joko Widodo cited various studies, including a Transportation Ministry survey, which revealed that a significant number of people still want to return to their hometowns on the annual exodus, known locally as mudik.

"After mudik prohibition for civil servants, military and police personnel, and employees of state-owned enterprises last week, in today's meeting, I want to convey a ban on mudik for all. Therefore, preparations related to this (ban) must be executed," he said.

The President noted that the government has issued a set of assistance measures for citizens affected by Covid-19 this week, such as food aid and cash handouts, that would help cushion the impact of the ban.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said the ban will become effective on April 24.

"There will be sanctions, but they will be enforced on May 7," he said without elaborating on the kind of sanctions. "The government will implement its strategy in stages."

Transportation Ministry's director general for land transportation Budi Setiyadi said in a statement that when found, violators insisting to carry on the exodus will be prohibited from continuing their trips, referring to the lightest sanction.

Studies, including the Transportation Ministry survey, showed that 24 per cent of respondents still want to return to their hometown ahead of Hari Raya Aidifilfitri holidays on May 24-25.

A recent survey by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) at the end of March, for instance, underlined that nearly 44 per cent of its respondents still planned to return to their hometowns despite the government's call not to do so.

The Indonesian Transportation Society (MTI) said last week that around 1.3 million people in Greater Jakarta would return to their hometowns, while 2.6 million would stay and another 900,000 had already left Jakarta.

Some 20 million people annually leave Jakarta and its surrounding satellites, such as Bekasi, Bogor and Tangerang, for their places of origin. Many others in the rest of the world's largest Muslim majority nation also join in the massive homebound travels each year.

The modelling by University of Indonesia's epidemiologists projected an escalation of Covid-19 transmission because of the annual exodus.

UI epidemiologist Dr Pandu Riono told The Straits Times when strictly enacted, the ban on annual exodus will avert the increase of 200,000 new cases in regions across Java island outside Greater Jakarta.

"The ban is the president's decision to be applied nationwide. It must be implemented on the ground, along with monitoring and evaluation," he said.

Indonesia reported 375 fresh coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total number of infections to 7,135.

The world's fourth-most populous nation of nearly 270 million people also saw 26 more deaths, taking the overall toll to 616, the highest in South-east Asia.

Jakarta made up nearly half of the infections and deaths in the country, registering 3,260 and 298 respectively.

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