Yerica Lai, Jakarta – Muslims in Indonesia celebrated Idul Fitri, which marks an end to the holy month of Ramadan, under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and health protocols that limited the scale of festivities for the second consecutive year on Thursday.
Idul Fitri is traditionally marked with mass prayers and families and relatives exchanging visits, but as the COVID-19 pandemic still drags on, authorities imposed restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the world's largest Muslim population.
National COVID-19 task force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito has repeatedly called on the public to refrain from visiting families, saying the tradition of silaturahmi (social bonds) could be carried out virtually.
"If we still insist on gathering with families or relatives, there is a huge possibility we could get infected and spread the virus," Wiku told a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
The government has also forbidden Idul Fitri mass prayers at mosques in high-risk areas, including Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in the country located in the capital and able to accommodate up to 120,000 people, though those in lower-risk areas are still allowed to hold mass prayers.
On Thursday, many worshipers wearing masks were seen at some mosques and open fields across the archipelago joining communal prayers with health protocols, according to local media reports.
The government also has banned mudik (exodus) for the second consecutive year this year to further reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. A joint force of 155,000 personnel from the police, Indonesian Military (TNI), public order agencies (Satpol PP) and the Transportation Ministry have been deployed to 381 checkpoints spread across Sumatra, Java and Bali, where travelers should present necessary permits and travel documents.
"We need to be patient and practice self-restraint from visiting families," President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said on YouTube. "This is indeed hard but we have no choice. We must prioritize our health and safety," Jokowi said.
The President performed Idul Fitri prayer with family members and several aides in the front yard of Bogor Palace in West Java, saying on Twitter that he himself did not return to his hometown for Idul Fitri this year. They maintained physical distance and wore masks during the prayers, in accordance with the government's guideline for Idul Fitri mass prayers during the pandemic.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has ordered the temporary closure of malls, restaurants and tourist spots in areas deemed at high and medium risk of COVID-19 infection across the capital from May 12 to 16.
Last year, Indonesia saw a spike in infections across the country following the Idul Fitri holidays, particularly after thousands of people violated the mudik ban. In the weeks following Idul Fitri, nationwide cases rose around 68 to 93 percent, while fatalities climbed 28 to 66 percent.