Jakarta (ANTARA) - Over 200 million Indonesians celebrated Eid al-Fitr in full swing on Monday following the government’s decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions given the significant drop in the number of infections of late.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) on April 2, 2022, announced that the government would allow people to go home this year provided they complete the vaccination requirements and follow the health protocols, such as wearing face masks.

As of May 2, a total of 199,346,528 Indonesians have been fully vaccinated out of the targeted 208,265,720.

Indonesian Muslims joyfully welcomed the announcement on the relaxations allowing Indonesians to celebrate Eid in their hometowns and perform Eid prayers in open fields as they normally do.

"I am feeling happy because I can finally go home, after a long time of not going home. Now, I can celebrate Eid in my hometown," Sari Novita, who traveled to Bangka, Bangka Belitung province, Sumatra Island, from Tanjung Priok Port, North Jakarta, Java Island, said on April 28.

The government has set collective leave on April 29 and May 4–6. This means that people have vacation time from April 29 to May 8.

Related news: Health protocols essential to prevent COVID spread during Eid: expert

"Thank God, in this year's Eid al-Fitr, we are able to gather with family, meet parents, and relatives in our hometown," the President said on the eve of Eid al-Fitr on May 1.

This is the third Eid al-Fitr amid the COVID-19 pandemic for Indonesian Muslims, who could not celebrate it normally in 2020 and 2021 owing to strict restrictions imposed by the government that banned them from holding mass Eid prayers and from returning to their hometowns under the annual exodus tradition called “mudik” to celebrate the Islamic festival with their relatives.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and First Lady Iriana decided to hold this year's Eid celebration at the Gedung Agung presidential palace in Yogyakarta, in the central part of Java Island.

Wearing face masks, they performed Eid prayers in the courtyard of the palace with the presidential apparatus, the Presidential Security Forces, and the families of Yogyakarta Palace employees.

Despite the relaxation, President Joko Widodo did not hold an open house, locally called “halal bi halal,” when the doors of the palace are usually opened to visitors wishing to convey Eid greetings to the President and his family and enjoy food provided for them. Widodo had asked Indonesian Muslims to skip the “halal bi halal” tradition this year to prevent COVID-19 spread.

Muslims constitute over 87 percent of Indonesia’s population of around 273 million. Every year, there is a mass exodus as millions of people leave big cities and head to their regional hometowns for Eid al-Fitr celebrations after observing fasting from dawn to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Transportation Ministry had estimated that at least 85.5 million Indonesians would join “mudik” this year, with 14.3 percent coming from the Greater Jakarta area.

"It’s understandable as many of the people must have longed for their hometowns after ‘mudik’ had been banned for the last two years,” Adita Irawati, the ministry’s spokesperson, said on April 8.

The ministry also estimated that 47 percent of the “mudik" travelers used private cars and motorcycles, 31 percent used public buses, around 10 percent used airplanes and trains each, and 2 percent used ferries or boats.

Related news: PMI commends high health protocol adherence amid Eid exodus trip

Thousands of homecoming travelers also enjoyed free transportation provided by local governments, state-owned and private companies, and several ministries.

The exodus usually triggers traffic jams as people travel simultaneously starting from one week prior to Eid al-Fitr.

On April 30, for instance, it took Eid exodus travelers driving by car from Jakarta, Bekasi, and South Tangerang about 10 to 11 hours to reach Merak Port, Cilegon, Banten province, from where they had to take the ferry to cross the Sunda Strait to reach Sumatra Island.

To help secure the traffic flow during “mudik” or exodus period, the police force has deployed 144,392 personnel, including regional police officers, in an operation dubbed “Operation Ketupat” 2022, which will last until one week after the Eid al-Fitr celebration.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBN) has also set up monitoring posts in various areas, particularly rest areas, to distribute face masks and ensure that travelers follow the health protocols.

In addition, toll road operators have installed at least 2,800 additional toilets in all rest areas to cater to travelers during the exodus period, according to an official from the Toll Road Regulatory Agency (BPJT).

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is also providing health assistance to travelers by offering free face masks and ambulance services for emergencies as well as health protocol information.

According to PMI secretary general Sudirman Said, the services will be available throughout the Eid exodus period, that is, one week before and one week after Eid al-Fitr.

Travelers must ensure they remain healthy while returning to their hometown amid the high travel fervor among residents after two years of COVID-19-related travel restrictions, which compelled them to spend Eid al-Fitr away from their families and relatives, Said added.

"Travelers can spend time with families (in their hometown), but they must also ensure that they will not infect (their families), and they will return safely and in good health," he said.

The Indonesian COVID-19 Task Force reported 168 confirmed COVID-19 cases on May 2, the lowest figure in more than two years.

Indonesia has seen three waves of COVID-19 infections, with the highest number of daily cases of over 64 thousand recorded on February 16 this year during the Omicron surge.

Related news: Let us ensure a safe homecoming

Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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