Coronavirus: Asia/new surge

Over 70,000 vehicles turned back in Indonesia amid exodus ban

Annual trip back to hometowns for Hari Raya banned for second year to curb Covid-19

Crowds at a market in Bekasi, West Java, on Sunday. Despite a ban on heading back to their hometowns for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, some Indonesians have managed to sneak past the 381 checkpoints set up across Sumatra, Java and Bali. Only those on officia
Crowds at a market in Bekasi, West Java, on Sunday. Despite a ban on heading back to their hometowns for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, some Indonesians have managed to sneak past the 381 checkpoints set up across Sumatra, Java and Bali. Only those on official duty or travelling on urgent purposes are exempt from the ban, which will be in force till next Monday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

More than 70,000 vehicles with occupants on their way home for Hari Raya Aidilfitri have been turned back since Indonesia banned the annual exodus, known as mudik, last Thursday.

Some, though, managed to sneak past the 381 checkpoints set up across the three major Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.

A joint force of some 166,000 police, military, public order and transport ministry personnel is manning checkpoints, inspecting the necessary permits and travel requirements.

In West Java alone, the occupants of around 36,000 cars and motorbikes passing through main streets as well as alternative roads, known locally as jalan tikus (literally "rat routes"), were told to make U-turns last Saturday.

Every year, near the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, millions of people working in the capital, Jakarta, and in other parts of the sprawling archipelago make their way back to their hometowns or villages by air, sea and land to celebrate Hari Raya with their families.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, with over 90 per cent of its 270 million people practising the faith, has banned mudik for the second year in a row to curb the transmission of Covid-19, which has left more than 47,000 people dead and over 1.7 million infected as at yesterday.

Only those on official duty or travelling on urgent purposes are exempt from the ban, which will be in force till next Monday. A Transportation Ministry survey has shown that 18 million will still return home despite the ban.

Factory worker Fajar Fahmi was among those who managed to get around the restriction, returning home to Brebes, in Central Java.

"I was ordered to turn back in Bekasi (West Java). But, then I found a shortcut via Jakarta," he told Kompas TV, adding that like many others, he could continue on his journey after waiting for the guards to leave the checkpoints.

Heavy rain in Cikarang and Karawang, West Java, allowed others to sneak in through "rat routes" to Cirebon early on Sunday.

Still, police managed to foil many others who tried to make the trip in fishing boats, ambulances, vegetable trucks and buses.

West Java police spokesman Erdi Adrimulan Chaniago said on Sunday that the police had discovered 138 illegal shuttle buses carrying travellers heading to West Java regions from Greater Jakarta. "Sanctions are being imposed and all the vehicles have been detained," he was quoted as saying by Antara.

Officials fear mudik could trigger an explosion in Covid-19 cases after the Hari Raya holidays, particularly with the detection of a more transmissible B1617 coronavirus variant first discovered in India, as well as the B1351 variant in South Africa and B1117 in Britain.

Two bus passengers from Tangerang, Banten, who managed to get to Solo in Central Java last Friday tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival.

Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman warned that the massive movement of people is "dangerous" for Indonesia, where the coronavirus positivity rate, at above 10 per cent, remains high, signalling that the virus is still not under control.

"A rise of uncontrollable people's movement undeniably serves as a contributor of the worsening pandemic," he told The Straits Times.

The health ministry has said that as many as 10 people in Jakarta, Central Kalimantan and South Sumatra had been infected by the B1617 variant, while 14 cases of the other two other variants had been detected in some provinces.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2021, with the headline 'Over 70,000 vehicles turned back in Indonesia amid exodus ban'. Subscribe