Fears are running high that mudik, the annual homecoming exodus involving around 30 million Indonesians that takes place during the Eid holiday, is going to spread COVID-19 from urban centers to rural areas on a massive scale, further crippling Indonesia amid the pandemic. The government has thus far refused to ban mudik for the greater good, and that, apparently, is the people’s fault.
President Joko Widodo yesterday decided not to ban mudik — expected to take place mid-May — in a cabinet meeting. One of Jokowi’s most senior cabinet members, Luhut Pandjaitan, who is the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, as well as the acting transportation minister with Budi Karya still hospitalized with COVID-19, gave the government’s justification for allowing mudik.
“If we ban mudik, people will still go on mudik anyway. So we advise that people should be aware that if people go on mudik, they can almost certainly bring the disease [to their hometowns],” Luhut said after the meeting, as quoted by Kumparan.
“If they bring the disease, people in rural regions can die, including their families. That’s why we’re advising people not to go on mudik.
“Our first consideration is that we don’t want the economy to die. Based on our calculations, this is the best choice.”
As compensation, the government is reportedly studying the possibility of setting a public holiday later in the year in order for people to go on mudik.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the highest clerical body in the country, has declared mudik during the pandemic haram (forbidden), citing a religious law prohibiting Muslims from leaving a plagued area.
But non-legally binding advisories and measures are unlikely to curb the number of mudik goers by a significant amount, and health experts in the country have repeatedly called for the government to lockdown or impose regional quarantines on COVID-19 red zones, most notably Jakarta, West Java, and Banten.
As of Thursday afternoon, Indonesia has confirmed 1,790 positive cases of COVID-19, which includes 170 deaths.