Australians returning to Indonesia for first time since COVID-19 hit mark Eid at gravesites

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Eid al-Fitr is normally a joyful celebration — a time of feasting and family to mark the end of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn until dusk for 30 days.

But for those in Australia returning to Indonesia for the first time since the pandemic, it is also a period of grieving for the loved ones they have lost. 

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Among them is Andrian Wiguna, an Australian permanent resident who travelled to Jakarta with his family last week from Adelaide.

The journey this time was sombre compared to the last trip he made to Indonesia in 2019.

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“At that time I was being picked up by my brother, his wife and my mum at the airport,” Mr Wiguna said.

But all three died last year. In the space of three months, his brother died after being infected with the Delta strain, his sister-in-law died after battling cancer, and his mother passed away with COVID in November. 

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He was unable to attend their funerals as Australian citizens and permanent residents were banned from leaving the country without an exemption for about 18 months.

“It definitely feels very different now when I arrived home without them,” he said. 

Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

Andrian Wiguna (pictured right, with his son Aristo), celebrated the end of Ramadan with Eid prayers in his hometown, Jakarta.(Supplied)

For Eid, Mr Wiguna visited the cemetery where his mother, brother and sister-in-law were laid to rest.

He sat in silence, praying they would find peace. 

His brother had three children, all still teenagers, who are now orphaned. 

“We are in discussions about their future, thinking about what's best for them in terms of guardianship, whether they can live with us in Australia or if it's better to stay in Jakarta,” Mr Wiguna said. 

“So this time coming home is not only to celebrate Eid with the rest of my family, but I need to take care of other family matters as well.”

Celebrating first family reunion in years

For the first time in two years, the Indonesian government has allowed people to move freely all over the country for Eid, declaring a holiday period of 10 days from April 30 to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

That means millions in Indonesia — the largest Muslim country in the world — are travelling to their hometowns to celebrate. 

Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

The government expects a record number of people will travel across Indonesia for Eid this year. (Supplied)

The government estimated 85 million people would travel home this year, which would make 2022 the biggest movement of people for Eid in Indonesia's history. About 30 million people travelled to take part in the annual tradition before COVID. 

As of March 8, domestic travellers no longer needed to return a negative RAT or PCR test result, and as of April 5, international travellers no longer needed to provide a negative PCR test result to enter the country. 

Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

Didi Rullianda (centre) and his son were pleased to see his grandmother Sumidah, 86. (Supplied)

Australian citizen Didi Rullianda has been living in Melbourne since 2002, but always tried to go home during Eid.

He is now in Indonesia with his son Raihan, but his wife is battling cancer and has been unable to make the journey.

Mr Rullianda, who works as an IT consultant, said the past two years had been a rollercoaster of worry and anxiety as he followed news about COVID-19 in Indonesia from Australia.

Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

Mr Rullianda and his son Raihan pray with hundreds of other people.(Supplied)

More than 150,000 Indonesians have died with COVID-19, many of them during a devastating Delta wave in August last year. 

Mr Rullianda was relieved all his family members had survived or avoided COVID-19, and he was happy and grateful to be able to see his elderly grandmother, Sumidah, who is 86.

Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

After a long separation due to border closures, Monalisa Hainsworth (centre) valued the time she spent with extended family this year.(Supplied)

Monalisa Hainsworth was also happy she could visit Indonesia for the Eid holiday, even though she initially did not plan to go this year.

“A week before, I decided to go home after getting a month of leave from my work,” Ms Hainsworth said. 

'A calm sea between waves'

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo announced last month that people would be permitted to travel for Eid again after COVID-19 cases dropped significantly.

Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

The capital saw a mass exodus as people returned to their homes to mark the end of Ramadan.(AP: Tatan Syuflana)

In the past week, Indonesia has reported between 100 and 600 new cases daily, and between 20 and 40 deaths each day.

On May 4, there were 176 new cases and 16 new deaths officially reported.

This stands in stark contrast with February, when Omicron-driven cases surged to about 64,700 cases a day, surpassing the peak of the Delta outbreak.

Almost 80 per cent of Indonesia's eligible population of 208 million has been fully vaccinated, many of the people with the Chinese-made Sinovac shot. 

Riris Andono Ahmad, an epidemiologist at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, described the COVID-19 situation in Indonesia now as “a calm sea between waves”.

“As long as the virus is still transmitting around the world, the possibility of new variants is still there,” Dr Ahmad said. 

“Indonesia has just experienced a very big wave with Omicron which was even worse than Delta in terms of case numbers.

Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

Mr Wiguna enjoyed reuniting with his niece and nephew during Eid.(Supplied )

For Andrian Wiguna, this Eid celebration was mingled with sadness, but it also served as a reminder to be grateful for the family he still had and it was a relief to see his nephew and niece coping well.

“I can see myself they are doing all right, much better than I thought they would since losing their parents,” he said.

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Australians returning to indonesia for first time since covid-19 hit mark eid at gravesites

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