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Govt hits brakes on 'mudik' for second year as pandemic lingers

Govt hits brakes on 'mudik' for second year as pandemic lingers

A police officer orders a driver to turn back (ANTARA/HO/Raharja)

Mbok Ija, a housemaid who worked without a break for the last two consecutive years, was excited when her son told her on the phone to pack her bags for Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

He was sending a chartered car to ferry her to her rural home in East Java so she could join in the festivities with relatives.

Ija said her son was aware that the government has once again banned homebound travel, locally known as ‘mudik’, which usually involves a mass exodus as millions of people leave big cities and head for their rural hometowns for Eid al-Fitr.

To avoid any trouble, Mbok Ija left for East Java at 4 a.m. on May 1, 2021, ahead of the ‘mudik’ ban, which is being enforced from May 6-17, 2021, as part of restrictions to check the spread of COVID-19.

Homecoming activities, wherein travelers meet their relatives, usually involve direct physical contact, such as shaking hands and hugging, which could transmit the coronavirus more quickly.

This concern has prompted President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) to urge regional leaders to intensify dissemination of information on the ‘mudik’ ban and health protocols campaigns to avert any further rise in coronavirus transmission.

He has also asked the regions to continue with COVID-19 mass vaccination programs.

"Vaccination in regions should not stop. The central government's task is supplying the vaccine for the regions to keep stocks of it. Five percent is sufficient for stock. Administer it (COVID-19 vaccine) to the public," he ordered.

The government has also tightened procedures for Indonesian Immigrant Workers (PMI) keen on returning to their hometowns by strengthening the procedure, which now mandates two PCR tests and a four-day isolation.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019, the Indonesian government has imposed sanctions and restrictions on public activities, including on mobility and religious activities in places of worship. The government has also imposed a ‘mudik’ ban for two years in a row.

Thus, like last year, Indonesian Muslims, who constitute nearly 90 percent of the country’s population of 270 million, have once again been forced to change their tradition of praying in mosques during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Normally, during this month-long period of fasting, Indonesian Muslims break their fast at sunset with relatives, friends, or colleagues in restaurants or hotels, but this year, such gatherings have been banned.

Related news: Hundreds of workers protest mobility restrictions on Cikampek tollroad

This year, the Ramadan fasting month began on April 12, 2021 and will end on May 13, with Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr amid continued restrictions and sanctions in view of the prolonged pandemic. Though many people have complained of being fed up and bored with staying home for the past one-and-a-half years, the authorities have decided to tread with caution.

Government spokesperson for COVID-19 Handling, Prof. Wiku Adisasmito, has asked people to learn from India, where the COVID-19 pandemic has turned into a “tsunami”, and urged them to comply with the ban on the Eid al-Fitr homecoming exodus to avoid a spike in infections following the long holidays.

In addition to the ‘mudik’ ban, the government has also imposed restrictions on travel within the country two weeks prior to and after the ban period.

"When the number of cases is high, health facilities will not be adequate in the event of a large increase in cases," Adisasmito remarked during an online press conference monitored from Jakarta on May 6, 2021.

He, however, pointed to non-compliance to the ban among people, many of whom traveled to their hometowns before the ban on the homecoming exodus came into force.

Head of Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Doni Monardo, who is concurrently heading the COVID-19 Handling Task Force, has also urged people to not breach the homebound travel ban.

The government is concerned that any large-scale movement of people before the Ramadan fasting month ends and during the Idul Fitri holiday season could trigger coronavirus spread.

"We do not want a family gathering to end with tragic events. We (can) lose our beloved ones (due to COVID-19). Please do not let such tragedies occur," Monardo appealed.

He described the government's ‘mudik’ ban as a strategic decision. The key takeaway from the long holidays during the pandemic, when scores of people embarked on travel, has been that they were followed by an increase in active cases and the death rate, he pointed out.

The task force head cited as examples the long Eid al-Fitr holidays in 2020, Christmas 2020, and the New Year, saying the mortality rate jumped between 46-75 percent and active cases were up by 70-116 percent post the holidays.

Last year, Indonesia also held simultaneous regional head elections (pilkada) in 270 regions, with more than 100 million voters casting their ballot to elect governors, district heads, and mayors. Campaigning for the polls was conducted from September 26 to December 5, 2020, while voting took place on December 9.

The government has, however, earlier stated that the pilkada did not lead to fresh COVID-19 clusters, as health protocol measures against COVID-19 were applied comprehensively.

To help enforce this year’s ‘mudik’ ban, at least 155 thousand personnel, drawn from the Indonesian Police (Polri) and Defense Forces (TNI), have been deployed under Operation Ketupat 2021 from May 6-17.

"The 155 thousand joint personnel comprise 90,502 policemen and 11,533 military officers, as well as 52,880 personnel from related institutions, such as Satpol PP (civilian security guards), transportation offices, Jasa Raharja, and others," head of Polri's traffic corps, Inspector General Istiono, informed the press at Jakarta Polices Metro Jaya Headquarters on May 5, 2021.

The joint personnel have been stationed at 381 isolation posts as a precautionary measure. The National Police has also established 1,536 security posts to handle any security disturbances as well as 596 service posts and 180 integrated posts to secure public places, such as shopping centers, stations, airports, bus terminals, seaports, and tourist attractions.

At least 4,276 personnel have been stationed in the capital city and its adjoining areas. During the first day of the ‘mudik’ ban, the authorities closed several inter-city toll road gates, and forced hundreds of private cars to turn back.

Indonesia has recorded a total of 1,697,303 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 1,552,532 recoveries, and 46,496 deaths since the country announced its first infections on March 2, 2020.  

Related news: Police, military deploy 155,000 personnel for Operation "Ketupat" 2021

 

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