You Want Me to Turn Back from this “Mudik”? No Way!

By: Syafiq Basri Assegaff.

[The writer is a medical doctor who teaches at the LSPR Communication & Business Institute in Jakarta.]

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Please check the original article in the Jakarta Post (3 May 2021) which was also republished by The Star Malaysia (9 May 2012) via this link.

In the middle of the unbridled coronavirus contagion, the government has banned the Hari Raya Idul Fitri tradition of mudik (exodus) for the second consecutive year.

At first the block would be in effect from May 6 to 17, but then extended from April 22 to May 5, as well as May 18-24. Understandably it is projected to prevent a spike in COVID-19 transmission and deaths after the long holiday, as happened early this year. On 27 January 2021, a month after New Year holiday, for instance, the number of positive cases in Indonesia made a new record of more than one million, while on 22 December 2020 the number was 678,125.

According to President Joko Widodo, the ban last year has cut the number of mudik travelers from 89 million (33 percent of Indonesia’s population) to some 29 million. It went down around 70 percent compared to 2019. This year, the block can curtail the number of mudik travelers to around 18.9 million (See Antara, 29 April 2021). It is estimated 37 percent (around 12 million) the home-coming travelers come from Greater Jakarta area mostly to central Java.

Read also Improve Vaccination Program (in Kompas daily.

Last May 2020 the Jakarta government has imposed travel restrictions which included the Entry and Exit Permit (Surat Izin Keluar Masuk or SIKM) for people to enter and leave Jakarta. They must ask the SIKM from the neighborhood leaders (RT and RW). During that Ramadan time, Jakarta managed to decrease the Covid-19 cases, as obtaining the SIKM was intentionally made difficult for travelers. “The virus knows no holidays; it doesn’t care if it’s Lebaran or not… there is no such thing as ‘local mudik,’ only ‘virtual mudik’ is allowed,” said the Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan last year. However, once Ramadan was over, the Jakarta government had to revoke the SIKM due to the lack of support from the central government whose focus was on the hurting economy. Consequently, the transmissions got worse.

People going for mudik at one of Jakarta’s train stations last year. (ANTARA FOTO/Rivan Awal Lingga/rwa.)

Knowing that the method has been effective in declining the number of cases, if Indonesia wants to learn from last years’ experience, this time it should consider reapplying that policy of SIKM or something similar. Yet, it has to be applied soon. As written in the media, it was too late last year: by the time enforcement was in full effect many had traveled to their hometowns.

But unfortunately, until when this article is written, the government looks dubious in the efforts to cut the number of cases. On one hand the government bans mudik, but on the other hand it lets tourist spots to be open, giving chances for large gatherings to occur.

It is said that the public places are open with intention only to attract local population, not the mudik travelers. Really? How to differ among the visitors, which may include the mudik travelers who claim they are also from neighborhood? Nonetheless the facts show people are not discipline, ruining all the necessary health protocols, beside the threats from the new variants. People’s discipline for mask wearing in Jakarta, for instance, was 85 percent but lately down into around 80-81 percent.

Now we worry the mobility will beget extreme upsurge this Idul Fitri holiday unless people stay at home. The way to suppress the spike must be done by applying prevention method from the beginning of the trip plan like the previous policy of SIKM. This way is much better than dragging people back into their original place in the middle or at the end part of their trip, when the targeted village (kampung) already in the vicinity.

When people have left their cities, you need extra energy to ask them to go back home. After all the efforts and beautiful imagination of gathering with fellow villagers, after setting a complex arrangement for this once-a-year big trip to share happiness with their families, now you want to turn them back? “No way.”

The case will be different if they are stopped since the beginning when they are still home. You can make them aware that there are many conditions requested to buy tickets, with a kind of the exit-and-entry permit. Long time before the D-day all travelers must understand about this, after wide socialization through all communication channels. This will be more accepted. “If I fail to meet all the requirements, means that I do not need to buy a ticket and making such enormous preparation.” Energy is not wasted.

For instance, people from India, Pakistan and the Philippines would not buy a ticket to Hong Kong, because they know that from April 20 for two weeks Hong Kong suspends all flight from those countries, preventing the spread of the new N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain.

It may sound difficult at the beginning, but they who eventually meet the requirements can and will travel comfortably without any fear to be caught by the authorities or police on the way. During a fire disaster, the burden to smother the flame in the first place is much easier than after it spread widely into the end of road.

Because intention, a person’s plan, or motivation, is the most immediate predictor of one’s behavior, can be lost and a plan can be dropped, then what the government can do is emphasizing the socialization of the huge risk of over city travelling and mass gathering.

To understand further we may borrow Brian Jeffrey Fogg’s Behavior Model (FBM). Put it simply, this model suggests that behavior is composed of three factors: motivation, ability and a prompt. Under the FBM, if you want to succeed at changing people’s behavior, they need to be motivated, have the ability to perform the behavior and need a trigger to perform the behavior. Some of motivators include pleasure or pain, hope or fear and social acceptance or rejection.

Several elements characterize high ability or simplicity of performing a behavior are “time” (the person has the time to perform the target behavior), “physical effort” (how simple is it), and how “regular” is the activity. Any behavior that incurs disrupting a routine, such as the mudik habit, is considered not simple.

But we still have triggers about the performance of a behavior, which can be explicit or implicit. Advertisement, alarms, or other messages (such as from the government) are examples of triggers. One of the most important aspects of a trigger is “timing,” meaning that only certain times are best for triggering certain behaviors. That’s why we urge the government to implementing the ban since the starting cycle of mudik process.

Last week I asked a senior pulmonologist — who has been struggling in treating myriad of Covid-19 patients — about the SIKM. She subscribed the idea. “I support anything that can limit mass movement and large gathering,” said the expert who work in one of Jakarta’s general hospitals.

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