Govt to reopen borders once 70% of population vaccinated

Back to life, back to reality: Visitors wearing protective masks walking at a shopping mall after restrictions were eased in Jakarta. — Reuters

THE government is planning to ease restrictions on foreigners entering the country, possibly within months, once a certain number of its population is fully vaccinated.

Officials though appear to be divided on the number as well as when the border will be reopened.

National Covid-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito said that foreigners could visit once “at least 50% to 70%” of the target population were fully vaccinated with both doses.

He said this would probably not occur until next year in response to a query during a virtual briefing with foreign journalists.

But Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin was quoted as saying that borders would be reopened once 70% had received the first dose and that this was likely in November.

Currently, only foreigners with diplomatic or employment visas are allowed to enter Indonesia.

Other exceptions include medical workers on humanitarian missions and shipping cargo crew.

South-East Asia’s most populous nation, with a population of 270 million, has set a target to vaccinate 208.3 million people, or everyone aged above 12 with no underlying medical conditions.

As many as 72.7 million have received the first vaccine dose and of those 41.7 million have received the second as at Sept 12. This means that as at that day, only 20% of the target population have been fully vaccinated.

“Vaccine coverage has relatively improved in Indonesia. We will use that consideration to relax restrictions on some social, economic activities including foreigners’ entry to Indonesia,” said Wiku.

He said foreigners would be able to visit “especially for business purposes and limited tourism”.

Budi said during the interview that he was taking cues from the strategy adopted by Britain, which he said had prioritised rolling out first doses, achieving a lower rate of hospital admissions and fatalities.

“So for us, we concentrate on the first dose. If we can vaccinate 70% of the target population of 208 million, if we can hit 140-150 million, 70% with the first dose, then we can gradually start reopening,” he was quoted as saying.

“And my calculation is that will be reached by November.”

Budi added that border restrictions would be eased even further once 70% of the target population had been fully vaccinated.

Health Ministry spokesman Dr Siti Nadia Tarmizi confirmed Budi’s comments.

Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic nation with more than 17,000 islands and currently anyone wanting to travel within it, either by air, sea or land, must be partially vaccinated.

Foreigners must also be fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19 pre-departure and upon arrival. Indonesia has 30 international airports, including in Bali, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Makassar and Medan.

The authorities have stepped up checks at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta international airport, the main gateway into the country, as more travellers who tested negative during pre-departure later returned positive results upon arrival, local media reported.

Many of these cases between Aug 1 and Sept 6 involved Indonesian migrant workers returning home from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. Three cases were detected in travellers from Singapore.

“We are deploying more test equipment and personnel at airports, sea ports and land borders,” Dr Siti Nadia said. — The Straits Times/ANN

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