JAKARTA - Indonesia 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 on Thursday (Sept 16) said that foreigners could visit once "at least 50 per cent to 70 per cent" 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 from The Straits Times during a virtual briefing with foreign journalists.
But Reuters quoted Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin as saying on Tuesday that borders would be reopened once 70 per cent 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 per cent 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 Professor Wiku.
He said foreigners would be able to visit "especially for business purposes and limited tourism".
According to Reuters, Mr 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 per cent 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."
Reuters said that Mr Budi added that border restrictions would be eased even further once 70 per cent of the target population had been fully vaccinated.
Health Ministry spokesman Siti Nadia Tarmizi confirmed Mr Budi's comments, when contacted by The Straits Times on Thursday.
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.
Entering shopping malls in Jakarta and other major cities, including Surabaya and Bandung, requires proof of vaccination.
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 Nadia told ST.
Indonesia has ramped up vaccinations and since August has made it to the top 10 countries in the world for the number of doses administered, according to the Our World in Data website.