JAKARTA, April 10 (The Straits Times/ANN): Indonesia is gearing up for its largest ever movement of people with more than 85 million people returning home to towns and villages across the sprawling archipelago ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri early next month.
Extra measures are being put in place to prevent a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Most of those involved in the annual exodus - better known as mudik - live in Greater Jakarta and other major cities and they will start heading home by air, land and sea from the fourth week of this month, according to government surveys.
The expected surge follows the easing of several health protocols and travel requirements.
The government in the past two years tried to prevent people from moving around because of the pandemic, suspending domestic flights and other modes of transport.
Many, however, flouted the restrictions - for instance by hiding in trucks that avoided major roads - despite the risk of a fine of up to 100 million rupiah (S$9,500) and a maximum jail term of one year.
The seven-day average of daily Covid-19 cases has fallen well below 3,000 from around 55,000 in mid-February when the Omicron wave peaked.
"This is the first mudik after two years (when) it was banned. We are making ample preparations ahead of time," Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Muhadjir Effendy said on Thursday (April 7).
State-owned toll road operator Hutama Karya has tightened health protocols to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
"We are constantly spraying disinfectant on surfaces at toll gates, check point posts and rest areas," the head of the company, Budi Harto, told The Sunday Times.
He added that the number of rest areas would also be increased as a temporary measure to deal with the crowds.
Toll road operators are also planning to have extra tow trucks and ambulances on stand-by as well as mobile car service stations and fuel refill stations along the mudik route, said Mr Subakti Syukur, chairman of the Indonesian toll road operator association (ATI).
Transport Minister Budi Karya had announced steps to promote road safety, including encouraging motorcyclists to take other forms of transport. He said a motorcyclist who takes a train instead would be given cargo space for free on the train for his bike.
Similarly, riders who take the bus will have their motorcycle ferried on an accompanying truck.
Bima Yudhistira, director at the Centre of Economic and Law Studies in Jakarta, listed several reasons for the likely bigger-than-normal mudik.
"The upper middle class have waited for long and have built up a lot of savings as they are more risk averse towards travel during the pandemic. Now with the easing of restrictions and Covid-19 cases flattening, they are using the opportunity to undertake long-distance travel," he told ST.
He also pointed to the flood of travel promotions, many with attractive accommodation and flights bundled. - The Straits Times/ANN