A series of haunting pictures depicting the deepening COVID-19 crisis in India has again shown us the risk of not taking the pandemic seriously. With more than 300,000 new cases per day, the nation’s health system is on the brink of collapse, with hospitals reporting a shortage of beds and oxygen tanks for thousands of sick patients.
We express our solidarity for the people of India and pray that it will soon see the current pandemic storm subside. The world must help the Indian people cope with the aggressive surge in cases, not only because it is a moral imperative, but also to prevent transmissions from spiraling across its borders.
Like many other countries, Indonesia has restricted all passenger transportation from India as a precaution. It has stopped granting visas to Indian nationals and foreign residents, as well as travelers who have been to India in the 14 days prior to their arrival. This policy, according to the Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto, will be reviewed periodically.
The government has made the right call. We are obliged, however, to remind policymakers that the main risk to increased coronavirus infections here does not come from India, but within our own borders. This is especially so ahead of Idul Fitri, a peak travel season when millions of Muslims traditionally go on mudik (exodus) to celebrate the Islamic holiday in their hometowns.
India has taught us a valuable lesson on the necessity of curbing local transmission. While scientists believe that many factors are behind India’s second wave of infections, the lack of social restrictions has been cited as a major cause, as well as the emergence of new virus variants and the sluggish vaccine rollout.
After recording a steady decline in cases starting last September, Delhi decided to ease its COVID-19 restrictions. In the last couple of months, it allowed gatherings of millions for major religious festivals and local election campaigns, many of which did not observe physical distancing or mask wearing. A tidal surge in daily cases followed.
The science clearly shows a link between these gatherings and the surge in cases. We saw a similar occurrence in January, when Indonesia saw an uptick in its single-day tally following the regional elections and the year-end holidays in December.
It is therefore vital that the government stringently enforces its mudik ban for Idul Fitri, which falls in the second week of May. Traveling for the holiday will only transport COVID-19 from virus-stricken cities to regions that have been relatively spared from the pandemic, where it is likely that only a handful of at-risk people have been vaccinated.
We understand and sympathize how painful this policy might be for those who wish to celebrate Idul Fitri with their families, as well as all who depend on the travel industry for their livelihood, particularly the bus drivers that rely on the income they make during the mudik peak season to mark the major holiday.
But we cannot afford another wave of infection. We are well aware that a “second wave” could hit us even harder than the first, considering that more contagious and more deadly new variants are already spreading here and the slowdown in our vaccine rollout.
There is simply no room for complacency. Enforce the mudik ban.