JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia on Sunday imposed curbs on public transport ahead of the annual exodus to home villages that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the world’s fourth most populous country.
Still, the curbs are far short of the calls by some health experts for an outright ban on the Ramadan travel home as the number of cases and deaths from the new disease jump.
Indonesia confirmed a record daily increase of 46 deaths on Sunday to 373, the highest official toll in East Asia after China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected. The number of cases rose by 399 on Sunday to 4,241, also the biggest daily increase.
Health experts have been warning that Indonesia faces a surge in cases after a slow government response masked the scale of the outbreak.
About 75 million Indonesians usually stream home from cities at the end of Ramadan, due this year at the end of May. There are concerns this could further ignite the spread of the disease.
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.
President Joko Widodo has been criticised for rejecting calls for a 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.
Indonesian authorities have ramped up testing in the past week with more than 27,000 people checked for the virus as of Sunday, up nearly three-fold in a week.
“This shows we are being serious in looking for positive cases in communities,” Achmad Yurianto, an Indonesian health ministry official, told a televised briefing.
But the number of tests in Indonesia, a country of 260 million people, is still dwarfed by many neighbours. Malaysia, with 32 million people, has tested more than 71,000, while Vietnam had done nearly 119,000 tests by Friday.
The Philippines also saw a record jump in coronavirus-related fatalities, with 50 more reported on Sunday taking the total to 297, with 4,648 infections. Authorities in Manila have taken a tougher response than Indonesia by locking down much of the country, but they have also not undertaken mass testing.
Southeast Asia as a whole has recorded some 18,000 infections and nearly 800 deaths, sparking concern about an escalating crisis in parts of the region.
Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Karen Lema in Manila and Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Ed Davies and Peter Graff