Indonesia bans annual exodus of people during Ramadan to contain coronavirus

Indonesia will ban its traditional annual exodus of people streaming out of cities at the end of the Muslim fasting month in May, as the Southeast Asian nation looks to curb the spread of COVID-19, President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday.

Indonesia’s tally of 590 coronavirus deaths is the highest in East Asia after China, but Widodo 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 their home villages after Ramadan could hasten the spread of the disease.

“I have taken the decision that we will ban ‘mudik’,” Widodo told a Cabinet meeting, using the Indonesian term for the journey. “That is why the relevant preparation needs to be done.”

He cited a survey by the transport ministry that showed 24 per cent of the archipelago’s population of more than 260 million were insisting on joining the exodus after Ramadan.

Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment said that the ban will come into effect on Friday.

Last year, about 19.5 million people in the archipelago made the journey, the government says, and Widodo added that 7 per cent of Indonesians had already set out this year.

In a study last week, researchers at the University of Indonesia’s public health faculty warned that if the exodus was permitted, it could lead to a million infections by July on Java, the most populous island, home to the capital Jakarta.

Without the exodus, that figure could be cut to 750,000 cases, the researchers said.