Indonesia mulls additional holiday to limit annual Ramadan exodus

An empty street in Jakarta on March 25, 2020.
An empty street in Jakarta on March 25, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Thursday (April 2) he was considering the creation of an additional national holiday to encourage Indonesians to take leave later in the year amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. 

Faced with fears that an annual exodus for the Muslim Ramadan holiday would accelerate the outbreak across the archipelago, Indonesia also announced on Thursday it would give cash to poor families to encourage them not to leave the capital, Jakarta.

Indonesians, nearly 90 per cent of whom are Muslim, celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, or the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festival, with a feast and new clothes, usually returning to their home villages or towns. Ramadan this year falls over April and May. 

Each year, tens of millions of people in the largest Muslim-majority nation return to their home towns, an exodus known locally as “mudik”. This year’s Aidilfitri festival, known in Indonesia as Lebaran, is scheduled to take place late next month. Mr Joko said measures such as making tourist attractions free to help “bring some calm to the people” could be implemented during the new holiday.

The measures announced by the government fall short of the ban on mudik that some medical experts had sought. “What we’re doing is providing an additional programme to limit the dispersal of mudik travellers,” Social Affairs Minister Juliari Batubara said after a Cabinet meeting. 

Officials said Indonesians would not be banned from travelling, but would be required to undergo medical checks if they wanted to join mudik this year. 

The central government has resisted widespread lockdowns such as those in neighbouring Philippines and Malaysia, but on Wednesday it freed regions to impose restrictions such as shutting schools and limiting religious events at a local level. 

Indonesia’s coronavirus death toll rose to 170 Thursday as the world’s fourth most populous nation surpassed South Korea as the country with the greatest number of recorded fatalities in Asia after China. 

Indonesia reported a further 13 deaths and 113 new cases, taking its total number of infections to 1,790. South Korea has reported 169 deaths and 9,976 infections.