Indonesia on Tuesday announced the banning of Idul Fitri, the annual exodus at the end of Ramadan where people return home to their villages and see their families, over fears it could worsen the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.
With its population of around 264 million, Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic country. Every year, around 20 million people from Greater Jakarta, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, travel home to celebrate Idul Fitri.
President Joko Wikodo initially said he would rely on persuasion to ensure people did not travel this year, only prohibiting civil servants, military personnel, and police officers from participating s but stopping short of banning it altogether.
He changed his mind on Tuesday, citing a survey from the Transportation Ministry that found roughly a quarter of people intended to ignore his advice and celebrate the festival anyway.
“Based on field research and a survey conducted by the Transportation Ministry, we found that 68 percent of people had decided to not participate in the annual exodus, while 24 percent still insisted on leaving and 7 percent had already left,” Widodo said in a teleconferenced limited Cabinet meeting.
“It means we still have a very big percentage [of people who will participate in the mudik],” he continued. “So I want to announce that we will ban the mudik altogether.”
Indonesia has had a somewhat muddled response to the worldwide pandemic, initially denying that there were cases at all. After finally accepting its presence, President Jodo Widodo agreed to impose some social distancing measures but refused to impose a nationwide lockdown, meaning millions of people have continued traveling to work.
Authorities have repeatedly faced problems forcing Muslims to obey their orders. Last month, the government pleaded with Islamic leaders to stop holding mass gatherings as many followers prioritized practicing their faith over observing social distancing measures.
On Monday, the Jakarta Globe reported that after weeks of soaring cases, Indonesia now appears to be over the worst of the pandemic after reporting a sharp drop in new cases and an increase in the number of patients recovering from the virus compared to those who died from the illness. As Tuesday evening, the country had so far recorded 7,135 cases and 616 deaths, a relatively low figure given its vast population.