Jakarta (ANTARA) - The Indonesian Health Ministry unveiled on Sunday that an entry ban for travelers who live in or have ever visited eight African countries is imposed to anticipate the importation of cases of a new variant of COVID-19 called Omicron (B.1.1.529).
"The Directorate General of Immigration has banned visitor visas and limited stay visas, as well as refused temporary entry requests for foreigners who have lived in or visited the African regions," Spokesperson for COVID-19 Vaccination at the ministry Siti Nadia Tarmizi said.
The countries include South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini, and Nigeria, she said, adding that the regulation takes effect within 14 days before the travelers enter Indonesia.
The Indonesian Government has continued to monitor the new virus variant through the whole genome sequencing (WGS) analysis.
"Until now, the new variant has not been detected in Indonesia," she remarked.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)s report, she noted that the Omicron variant can quickly transmit, easily cause COVID-19 reinfection, and reduce vaccine efficacy.
Separately, lung specialist at the Faculty of Medicine of University of Indonesia, Tjandra Yoga Aditama, suggested that the quarantine period for international travelers need to be extended to one or two weeks after they arrive in Indonesia.
"In the circular letter of the Director General of Immigration, there are exceptions for foreigners who will attend G20 meetings. However, they must undergo strict examinations and an adequate quarantine period," he said.
He noted that WHO had classified the Omicron variant into the Variant of Concern (VOC) on November 26, 2021. Meanwhile, the virus was confirmed for the first time on November 9, 2021.
"It is possible that since November 26 there have been foreigners from those eight countries who have entered Indonesia and it is not impossible that they have been exposed to this new variant on the last two weeks," he said.
Hence, the specialist also encouraged the need to conduct tracing on international travelers by using WGS analysis.
"Regarding the WGS analysis in our country, it still needs to be improved," he remarked.
According to data of GISAID a global science initiative to provides open-access to genomic data of influenza and COVID-19 viruses -- as of 26 November 2021, Indonesia only had 8,906 WGS samples out of 270 million people.
Meanwhile, South Africa, with a population of less than 60 million, has submitted 23,452 WGS samples.
In addition, India has recorded 80.446 WGS samples out of 1.3 billion people.
"Our population is about a quarter of India's population. Thus, if currently India has examined more than 80 thousand samples, we should have examined 20 thousand samples," Aditama added. (*)