Indonesia bans foreign entry to curb virus spread

The govt also plans to mobilise volunteers to fight the virus spread in coastal villages and vast hinterlands of the archipelago


JAKARTA • Indonesia barred foreign nationals from entering the country as the world’s fourth-most populous country stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.

The travel ban, to be effective soon, will also cover foreigners transiting through the country, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta yesterday. The curbs will not apply to holders of work permits, diplomats and other official visitors, she said.

The curbs on foreign citizens is the latest in a raft of measures taken by Indonesia to combat the deadly virus that’s sickened more than 1,400 people and killed 122 (at press time). President Joko Widodo’s administration previously banned flights to and from mainland China and some of the virus-hit regions in Italy, South Korea and Iran.

Jokowi, as Widodo is known, has also ordered officials to step up screening of Indonesian workers returning from overseas to prevent the virus from spreading further. Thousands of workers have been returning from neighbouring Malaysia by sea and more residents working in cruise ships may also be coming back soon, the president said.

The government also plans to mobilise volunteers to fight the virus spread in coastal villages and the vast hinterlands of the archipelago with part of a US$4.4 billion (RM18.96 billion) rural budget to be used to fund the initiative, said Eko Sri Haryanto, an official at the Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration.

She added that the squads of volunteers will help authorities in increasing awareness about the pandemic in the country’s almost 75,000 villages, collect data on people exhibiting symptoms of infection and enforce social distancing rules.

Jokowi, who has resisted calls for a lockdown to combat the virus, has ordered strict enforcement of social distancing and monitoring to limit its spread in rural Indonesia. Jakarta and surrounding areas currently account for about two-thirds of the nation’s positive cases and fatalities, data show.

Officials are worried about a potential spike in infections with tens of thousands of workers, most of whom were employed informally, already returning to their villages from Jakarta and other cities after losing their jobs, and many more set to head home when the Muslim-majority nation celebrates the end of the fasting month in May. The village squads will help monitor workers and students returning from cities and ensure they adhere to isolation rules, Haryanto said.

“We need to form responsive village teams as this disease has no cure yet and most villages have no easy access to health facilities,” Haryanto said. “The pandemic can disrupt the economy and we are worried about the impact on the villages.”