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Coronavirus hits Muslim holy month in Indonesia

Widodo bans millions of people from returning home for Ramadan and Eid-al Fitr celebrations

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Coronavirus hits Muslim holy month in Indonesia

Passengers disembark from a ship on arrival at the Surabaya port in East Java on June 11, 2018, as people travel to their hometowns to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. (Photo: AFP)

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Siben Nurhasanah, 48, usually returns to her hometown in Central Java province’s Banjarnegara district each year to celebrate Eid-al Fitr with her family.

She’s been making the trip annually since going to work as a nanny for a Catholic family in Jakarta eight years ago. 

This year, however, she has been forced to change her plans after Indonesian President Joko Widodo imposed a travel ban on April 21 preventing the annual exodus of people traveling from Jakarta and other cities to their hometowns to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

An estimated 20 million people travel home for the holiday each year.

The blanket ban followed a similar one imposed on civil servants and employees of state-owned companies to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the predominantly Muslim country of 270 million people.

“I had planned to go back home. Now I feel so sad and disappointed. But what can I do? I have no option but to obey the ban,” Nurhasanah says.

The ban was the latest measure following the earlier introduction of a number of travel and other restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus. They include people having to work and study at home as well as banning gatherings and shutting down public transport services.

Jakarta was the first place to impose the restrictions on April 10. They were extended on April 22 for a further 28 days.

Adhitya Wibawa, an information technology consultant in Banten province, has also had to cancel his Eid-al Fitr holiday with his parents in Yogyakarta.

“I feel sad but this is an extraordinary situation. My and my parents’ safety take priority,” the 40-year-old said.

The father of two said he agreed with the government’s ban but added the decision was left very late as it came right before Ramadan started on April 23 . 

“I wish the president could have issued the ban earlier,” he said, adding that many people would have been making plans to return home during Ramadan.

According to Acting Transport Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, travel in and out of Covid-19 red zones will be prohibited under the ban, effective April 24. Violators face a maximum one-year jail term or a fine of up to 100 million rupiah (US$6,480).

Explaining why the government issued the ban just a few days before Ramadan, Pandjaitan said it was made with people’s safety in mind and so that the exodus would not impede the government’s aid distribution efforts.

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, a transport analyst and a Catholic, criticized the ban, saying it also prevented thousands of out of work people returning home to escape economic hardship in Jakarta.

“Many people I know, mostly poor, had decided to return to their hometowns because they could no longer make a living in Jakarta and were not receiving government aid” he told UCA News.

Mudik is an annual tradition in which millions of city residents in the world's most populous Muslim country return to their hometowns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr with their families. 

“The ban might have no impact on the upper-middle class, but what about poor people? They cannot work as usual, so cannot afford to buy food,” Nainggolan said.

As of April 23, Indonesia had recorded 7,775 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 647 deaths.

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