JAKARTA: Indonesia will resume inter-city commercial flights, trains and buses for certain travellers on Thursday (May 7), less than two weeks after the government announced a blanket ban on domestic travel to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
President Joko Widodo had earlier decided to ban all inter-city travel to stop Indonesians from carrying out the traditional annual exodus, known locally as mudik, ahead of the Muslim holiday Idul Fitri.
Under the ban, all commercial flights, trains, buses and passenger ships were temporarily halted from Apr 24 until next month.
Meanwhile, private vehicles are not permitted to leave or enter Jakarta and its eight suburbs as well as the so-called red zone areas where local transmissions had occurred.
Only trucks carrying logistics, police, military vehicles and ambulances were originally permitted to travel in and out of the red zones.
However, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that a decision has been made to allow transport operators to resume their operations starting on Thursday.
The minister noted that state officials, representatives of international organisations, businessmen and professionals still need to conduct business trips.
“Starting (May 7), all air transport, train, sea transport and bus operators can resume operations on condition that they follow the health protocol,” he told members of parliament.
“Consider yourself lucky for being members of parliament. You can still travel … but for work and not for mudik. Us (officials) can also travel to perform official duties.”
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Even though inter-city public transportation will resume service, Mr Sumadi stated that the general public is still barred from returning to their hometowns and villages to celebrate Idul Fitri with their families.
Exceptions will only be made for people travelling due to “urgent family affairs”, such as attending funerals or tending to sick relatives, he added.
Separately, Mr Doni Monardo, chief of the government’s COVID-19 mitigation task force, told a press conference on Wednesday that inter-city travel would also be permitted for people working in essential services.
Meanwhile, Indonesians working and studying overseas can return to Indonesia and will be repatriated back to their villages.
“Mudik is still banned, period. We are only making exceptions for the type of travel allowed,” Mr Monardo said.
“The decision to allow transportation to resume is made because it would otherwise hinder the fight against COVID-19.”
Mr Monardo explained that medical workers reassigned to other cities and areas have been struggling to find means of transport.
Meanwhile, logistics and the import of medical equipment are also hindered because there were no flights available. “We don’t want health services and the provision of basic needs to be hindered,” he said.
Travellers are required to show documents stating that they are on official business trips, obtain letters from doctors and hospitals to prove that they are in good health, as well as show their return tickets before they are allowed onboard.
Public policy expert Mr Trubus Rahardiansyah criticised the resumption of transport services, calling it counter-productive in the fight against the pandemic.
"Providing such exemptions would overwhelm officials out in the field because they would need to inspect all vehicles and scrutinise every traveller to make sure they met the criteria set by the government," the Trisakti University lecturer told CNA.
"If the aim is to stop the spread of COVID-19 then all travel should be banned."
Mr Rahardiansyah argued that even without the resumption of inter-city public transportation, people are still finding ways to perform mudik, by taking loosely monitored country roads.
"But at the very least the ban means people cannot perform mudik by trains, buses and airplanes," he said.
"Unless, we stop people from performing mudik, the pandemic will spread to villages which are less equipped, have inadequate healthcare systems and are less well-funded than the cities."