Jakarta. The Government has urged Indonesians to skip traveling abroad during this Christmas and New Year holiday season, following the increase in the Covid-19 cases worldwide due to the new Omicron variant.
"The number of infected people is increasing, both positive confirmation and suspect cases. In this regard, the Government strongly requests, strongly urges Indonesian citizens who do not have very urgent interests not to travel abroad," the Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said in a press conference on Monday.
"Love and protect our health, love and protect the health of our families, love and protect our health and the health of Indonesia," Retno said.
Today, Indonesia has yet to detect the Omnicron variant on its soil. But the new variant has taken over as the dominant one, replacing the Delta variant, in countries like South Africa, South Korea, Malawi, and Ghana, according to data compiled by Gisaid, a public-domain sharing platform for influenza and Covid-19 viruses' genetic codes.
Retno said, citing data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Omicron has been detected in more than 70 countries, including the United Kingdom, which on Monday also reported the first confirmed death from the variant.
Initial data from South Africa showed Omicron could spread much faster than its predecessor Delta variant. Still, experts at WHO were working and looking for more data to ascertain the severity, Retno said.
Still, "with limited evidence, there is no other way for us to continue to be careful. I want to repeat, to continue to be careful and vigilant," she said.
Tightening the Border
On Monday, the Government would tighten quarantine at the border for every citizen who travels abroad, Coordinating Minister for Investment and Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said.
Today, all travelers coming from overseas must quarantine at government-paid facilities or self-paid hotels for ten days. Few travelers like government officials can get special dispensation to isolate themselves at their residences.
Still, the quarantine arrangement was far from airtight. Several public figures have breached the isolation rule in the past few months.
Last week, Instagram influencer Rachel Venya was found guilty and sentenced to four months in jail, pending an eight-month probation period, for slipping away from a government quarantine facility when she returned from the United States last October.
Luhut said the Government would implement several policies to make such breaches more difficult.
"One of the policies that will be carried out is to change the status of foreign travelers to black in the PeduliLinduni during their quarantine period," Luhut said.
PeduliLindungi is the government app for Covid-19 monitoring. All Indonesians must check-in through the app when they enter or visit public areas such as shopping malls, offices, or parks.
The app assigns four color-coded statuses for its users, with black implying the user has been infected or in contact with Covid-19 infected person in the past two weeks. People with black or red status — meaning they have not received any dose of the Covid-19 vaccine — are prohibited from entering public areas.
According to data from Angkasa Pura II, a state-owned airport operator, the number of Indonesians traveling abroad this month has increased by 100 percent compared to the average of the previous months. Luhut said the Government was worried about them returning with the Omnicron variant.
"The government is carefully anticipating their return by staying on and on alert for ten days," he stressed.
"Additional capacity at guesthouse and hotel is also being prepared to anticipate the increasing number of quarantined people. This policy will continue to be in line with the spread of the Omicron variant," Luhut said.
"Still, the government urges the public not to go abroad in the first place, except it's urgent," he said.