Indonesia to ban annual exodus at end of fasting month
Move to rein in Covid-19, as experts warn that travelling home at end of holy month may cause spike in cases
JAKARTA : Indonesia will ban the traditional annual exodus of people out of cities at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in a bid to stem the spread of Covid-19, President Joko Widodo said yesterday.
Indonesia's 26 new deaths brought its tally to 616, the highest in East Asia after China, but Mr Joko had previously resisted a ban, seeking instead to persuade people to stay put.
But health experts had warned that allowing millions in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country to travel to homes in towns and villages over Ramadan, which starts this week, could accelerate the spread of the disease.
Indonesia reported 375 new coronavirus infections yesterday, taking its total to 7,135.
"I have taken the decision that we will ban 'mudik'," Mr Joko told a Cabinet meeting, using the Indonesian term for the journey. "That is why the relevant preparation needs to be done."
He cited an online survey by the Transport Ministry that showed 24 per cent of respondents insistent on joining the exodus.
Last year, about 19.5 million people in the archipelago of more than 260 million people made the journey, the government says, and Mr Joko added that 7 per cent of Indonesians had already set out this year.
The ban takes effect on Friday, with restricted access to Jakarta and cities grappling with virus outbreaks, said Mr Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister of Maritime and Investment Affairs.
In a study last week, researchers at the University of Indonesia's public health faculty warned that if the exodus home was permitted, it could lead to a million infections by July on the most populous island of Java.
Without the exodus, that figure could be cut to 750,000 cases, the researchers said.
Malaysia said yesterday, it too will look into the possibility of deferring its public holidays for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration, following Indonesia's move.
Malaysia's Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government will decide whether the holidays are to be rescheduled after getting views from the Islamic Affairs Minister.
This comes as the country reported 57 new coronavirus cases, bringing its total to 5,482, as the daily increase in cases remained in double digits for the fifth straight day.
Malaysia's Health Ministry also reported 3 new deaths, bringing the total fatalities to 92.
Mr Ismail said: "It will not just be about Hari Raya but also on other matters such as the terawih prayers (special evening prayers during Ramadan) that the (Islamic Affairs) minister will discuss and propose.
"So, let's wait for what he has to say. Let us start fasting first," said Mr Ismail.
Thailand recorded 19 new cases yesterday, a senior health official said, the lowest daily tally in more than a month. It has a total of 2,811 cases and 48 deaths.
The Philippines recorded nine new coronavirus deaths and 140 additional confirmed cases. Its total coronavirus deaths have reached 437, while infections have risen to 6,599. - REUTERS, THE STAR