Jakarta – The government has decided to extend the ban on 2021 Idul Fitri homecoming, one of the world's largest annual migrations, to Indonesia's entire population in its latest effort to suppress the Covid-19 virus transmission among its population.
"In 2021, homecoming will be forbidden to the civil servant, the police and armed forces, state-owned enterprises employees, private-sector employes, entrepreneurs, and the entire population," the Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Muhadjir Effendy said in a virtual press conference on Friday.
This ban takes effect from May 6 to 17, the minister said. "Before and after that date, people are advised not to travel outside their region [of residence] unless it is really urgent and necessary," Muhadjir said.
Previously, the government only imposed the ban on the civil servant, the police and armed forces, state-owned enterprises employees.
The government allows an extra one-day off in addition to the official two-day Idul Fitri festival for civil servants. Normally, the extra paid leaves bring together the Idul Fitri holidays to a full week.
The country has seen new daily Covid-19 cases dropped to around 6,000 cases this week, from its peak at around 13,000 cases in January. The country bucks the trend in Asia, where many countries are seeing the next wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Small tick-ups in the number of daily new Covid-19 cases that followed the Chinese New Year holiday in February and Isra Mikraj holiday early this month have enough to stoke concerns among the policymakers.
Idul Fitri, which will fall on May 12 and 13 this year, is the largest holiday in Muslim-majority Indonesia in terms of mass migration, compared to those two holidays.
The government estimated around 23 million people traveled from large cities to their hometowns across the country in 2019, up 14 percent from 21.5 million a year earlier. At the scale, Indonesia's Idul Fitri annual migration is only behind Chinese New Year in China, which involved 385 million people, the Thanksgiving homecoming in the United States (51 million), and Arba?een Pilgrimage in Iraq (45 million).
Last year, Idul Fitri arrived three months into the pandemic amid the government's large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) that limit people's activities.
Strict health protocol and testing requirements for travel were enough to deter people from making their annual journey last year. Data from the Transportation Ministry showed air travel dropped by 98 percent during the Idul Fitri season last year, from a year earlier, while toll road traffic dropped by 60 to 70 percent.
Still, the number of cases picked up by 37 percent three weeks after the holiday. The similar patterns got repeated for the remainder of the year, with the number of daily new cases shooting up two or three weeks after public holidays.
Netty Prasetiyani Aher, a member of the House of Representatives Commission IX, which oversees health and labor issues, has also called for the government to ban the homecoming this year. "Our experience showed there always a spike in the number of cases, every time there is mass mobility after long holidays," Netty said in a recent statement.
The government was also aware that the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases after long holidays would undermine the government's vaccination efforts. More cases could mean more healthcare resources directed toward Covid-19 patient treatment instead of the vaccination program.
Muhadjir said the homecoming ban aims to allow the vaccination to "produce the maximum possible public health output."
Indonesia has delivered more than 9.3 million Covid-19 vaccine shots to more than 6.3 million Indonesians since the campaign began on January 13, data from Health Ministry showed. The government targets to inoculate 181 million people or 70 percent of the population by March next year.
For the first and second stage of the campaign, Health Ministry aimed to vaccinate 40.3 million people, including medical and healthcare workers, civil servants, workers in services sectors, and people aged 60 years old and above by the end of May.
Most of the medical and health care workers have been vaccinated. Vaccination for civil servants, workers in services sectors was also progressing on schedule. On the other hand, vaccination for the elderly, however, moved at a snail pace. Only 1.3 million out of 21.5 million targeted by the government having been vaccinated, the Health Ministry's data showed on Friday.