Indonesia begins random tests on Aidilfitri returnees

A passenger showing her ticket to an officer at Jakarta's Pasar Senen train station on May 4. At the end of Ramadan each year, millions living in Jakarta make their way home in a massive exodus to celebrate Aidilfitri. ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN
A passenger showing her ticket to an officer at Jakarta's Pasar Senen train station on May 4. At the end of Ramadan each year, millions living in Jakarta make their way home in a massive exodus to celebrate Aidilfitri. ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

Indonesia yesterday implemented random Covid-19 tests and mandatory checks on travellers returning from their home towns following Hari Raya Aidilfitri, in a bid to stave off a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The random tests will be carried out in 21 locations on travellers departing from provinces across Java island to Jakarta, said Mr Airlangga Hartarto, head of the Covid-19 mitigation and national economic recovery committee.

It is also mandatory for all travellers from Sumatra to the capital via Bakauheni port in Lampung to produce Covid-19 test results that show they are free of the virus.

Mr Airlangga said on a talk show yesterday: "It is expected that these measures can monitor the movements of people, to avert a spike in cases in the capital and other regions."

Previous random testing prior to the Aidilfitri period found that 4,123 out of 6,742 travellers had tested positive for the virus.

Indonesia is home to 270 million people, 90 per cent of whom are Muslim. At the end of Ramadan each year, millions living in Jakarta and other parts of the country make their way home by air, sea and land in a massive exodus, known as mudik, to celebrate Aidilfitri.

Indonesia banned the mudik for the second year from May 6 to tomorrow to curb the transmission of Covid-19, which has killed 47,967 and infected 1.74 million as at yesterday.

Mr Airlangga said a set of measures taken this year to curb the massive exodus, particularly the blockage of major intercity streets, had been more effective compared with last year.

As at Hari Raya last Thursday, tens of thousands of vehicles with their occupants on their way home, including more than 64,000 from Jakarta, had been turned back.

The 381 checkpoints were manned by more than 155,000 police, military, public order and transport ministry staff across the three major Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.

Despite this, some people managed to sneak through.

Speaking alongside Mr Airlangga on the same talk show, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said only around 1.5 million people performed the homebound journey ahead of Aidilfitri, much lower than the 18 million projected based on a transportation ministry survey earlier.

He said the number of travellers on air, sea and land, as monitored in departure points such as Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, also dropped sharply from last year.

Mr Budi projected that the return exodus might peak between today and Thursday. "We advise people not to travel on those dates," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 16, 2021, with the headline 'Indonesia begins random tests on Aidilfitri returnees'. Subscribe