Indonesia to temporarily ban all foreign arrivals, transits to curb further spread of coronavirus

People at the arrival hall of the international airport in Bali on March 28, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Indonesia will temporarily ban all visits and transits by foreign nationals to the country to curb the further spread of the coronavirus.

"President (Joko) sees that our current policy needs to be made stricter. We have decided that all visits and transits by foreign nationals to Indonesia will temporarily be banned," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after a virtual ministers' meeting with President Joko Widodo on Tuesday (March 31).

Exceptions to the ban include those with work permits as well as diplomats, Ms Retno added, stressing that proper health protocols will still apply.

President Joko said before the ministers' meeting that Indonesia is stepping up measures to limit mobility among its citizens within the country, but threats of coronavirus spread also come from overseas.

Mr Joko pointed out specifically that the epicentres of the pandemic have shifted to the United States and Europe.

In Indonesia, Jakarta is the epicentre of the country's coronavirus crisis, accounting for nearly half of the 1,414 confirmed cases.

There are 122 deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Indonesia so far, the highest in South-east Asia.

"Practically all nations have put in place limits on the flow of travellers with varying (degree of) strictness depending on the respective situation and condition in each country," Ms Retno said.

Their policies have also impacted Indonesians living overseas, many of whom have recently returned home or are preparing to head home.

According to Ms Retno, the two largest groups of homebound Indonesians are Indonesian migrant workers from Malaysia as well as Indonesians working as crews on cruise ships.

"The inflow traffic from these two groups has been far larger than normal," Ms Retno said.

"In terms of size, the number of Indonesians living and working in Malaysia exceeds 1 million. And there are 11,838 Indonesian crews working for 80 cruise ships, as per data gathered so far," Ms Retno added.

She said the government is implementing proper health protocols at airports, seaports, border check points on these returning countrymen.

Mr Joko on Monday said Indonesia needs stronger measures to limit mobility after receiving reports that thousands of workers in Jakarta and its surrounding areas have returned to their home towns after losing most or all of their income amid the coronavirus outbreak.

There have been concerns of a spread of infections as people from Jakarta, the epicentre of the country's outbreak, return home.

The government is preparing regulations that would make it possible for Jakarta and other coronavirus red zones to be put under an "area quarantine", a term observers see as equivalent to a lockdown, which would stop flows of people going in and out.

Coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister Luhut Pandjaitan said in a video message on Tuesday that the government would take the decision within this week, stressing however Indonesia would use the term lockdown.

Indonesia would also issue a presidential emergency decree that would allow the government to have an annual budget deficit of larger than 3 per cent - currently not allowed by the existing laws - so that it could spend more to deploy cash, especially to the poorest population in the country. This exemption would apply for three years, before a normal threshold of 3 per cent would be reinstalled for 2023 annual budget year.

"(Finance Minister) Sri Mulyani is currently making her calculation. What if we give the bottom 40 per cent or 20 per cent direct cash handouts. It is being thoroughly calculated," Mr Luhut said.

President Joko said on Monday that over the past eight days alone, 876 buses had transported about 14,000 people in Greater Jakarta back to their home towns, mostly in West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta and East Java provinces. Others had taken the trains and ships home, he added.

These are mostly daily-rated workers such as push-cart food sellers, in what is termed the informal sector of the economy.

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