April 12, 2020 / 5:15 AM / 3 months ago

Indonesia orders coronavirus transport curbs ahead of Ramadan exodus

JAKARTA, April 12 (Reuters) - Indonesia has imposed curbs on public transport ahead of the annual exodus to home villages that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the government said on Sunday.

About 75 million Indonesians usually stream home from bigger cities at the end of Ramadan, due this year at the end of May, but health experts have warned against a surge in cases after a slow government response masked the scale of the outbreak.

Public buses, trains, airplanes and ships will be allowed to fill only half their passenger seats, under a new regulation that also limits occupation of a private car to just half the seats, while a motorcycle may be ridden only by one person.

“The essence of this new regulation is to carry out public transport control...while still meeting the needs of the people,” transport ministry spokeswoman Adita Irawati said in a statement posted on the cabinet secretariat website.

The capital Jakarta is the epicentre of the outbreak in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, with the most infections and deaths among a national tally of 3,842 cases and 327 fatalities.

President Joko Widodo has been criticised for rejecting calls for an outright ban on the Ramadan travel home, as well as stricter lockdowns such as those imposed by neighbours.

Widodo has instead sought to persuade people to stay put by expanding welfare programmes. He has opted for widespread social curbs in some areas, letting local authorities decide on closures of schools and offices, and bans on mass gatherings.

Sunday’s directive also limits public transport vehicles to half capacity, shorter operational hours and set out guidelines for motorbike taxis in regions covered by Indonesia’s large-scale social restrictions.

The ministry also ordered public transport operators to check passengers’ temperature, while bus terminals, train stations, airports and seaports must provide soap and hand sanitizers and standby medical staff.

Jakarta and surrounding cities in Southeast Asia’s biggest country, such as Bogor, Depok and Bekasi are under the large-scale curbs, known by their Indonesian abbreviation, PSBB. (Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez)

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