JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia has increased the mandatory quarantine period for all international arrivals from seven days to 10 days, effective on Friday (Dec 3), as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the globe.
The government earlier this week banned foreigners who have been in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini, Malawi, Angola, Zambia and Hong Kong within two weeks before departing for Indonesia.
The exceptions are Indonesians returning from these countries, who are subject to a 14 day-quarantine.
Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who is leading the government's Covid-19 response in Java and Bali, said the longer quarantine period was ordered by President Joko Widodo.
"This policy will be evaluated every now and then as we understand and continue to find out more information about this new variant," Mr Luhut said on Wednesday.
"We also urge the public not to travel abroad at the moment to keep the country's pandemic situation under control."
The government will also ban government officials from travelling overseas, unless they are assigned to important diplomatic missions.
Not much is known about the Omicron variant at the moment.
However, preliminary evidence suggests that it may be more transmissible than Delta, which is the most infectious Covid-19 variant to date.
Despite its alarming transmissibility, however, interim data suggest that Omicron symptoms may be less severe than Delta's, according to Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin.
The new variant has been detected in at least 24 countries so far, including Australia, Britain, Germany, Israel, Italy, the United States, Belgium and Saudi Arabia. No deaths related to this variant have been reported so far.
Indonesia has not yet found any cases of the Omicron variant but the government has been stepping up measures to minimise the potential impact should it reach the country.
Mr Budi earlier said that the health authorities were working on enhancing Covid-19 surveillance - including tracing, testing and whole genome sequencing - to effectively detect and contain the spread of Omicron at an early stage.
They will also work with village-level non-commissioned military officers and officers of the police's security and public order unit to strengthen contact tracing and find new cases as soon as possible.
The government has also introduced stricter Covid-19 restrictions across the country during the year-end holidays to curb public mobility.
Experts have praised the government's decision to prolong the compulsory quarantine period, but suggested that the authorities carry out more thorough pre-emptive efforts against Omicron.
"Aside from extending the quarantine period and banning state officials from travelling abroad, the government should also limit the number of Indonesians allowed to travel overseas," epidemiologist Dicky Budiman said on Thursday.
Public health expert Tjandra Yoga Aditama from the University of Indonesia said the government should also carry out multi-layered risk mitigation, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
"It means the government should track travellers arriving from the 11 red-list countries before the travel ban was in effect and check whether they have tested positive for Covid-19 or not," Professor Tjandra said.
"The first Omicron virus variant was detected in South Africa on Nov 9, so there is a possibility that people arriving in Indonesia from countries on the travel ban list in the past two weeks had contracted the variant," he said.
"Thorough tracking is very important, especially considering our mandatory quarantine period at the time was only three days."
Prof Tjandra also suggested that the government impose a two- to three-week mandatory quarantine on travellers from all countries that have reported Omicron cases.