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Indonesia urges citizens to hold off on foreign travel after jump in omicron cases

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials on Monday urged the public to hold off from traveling abroad after a surge in cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 were traced back to individuals coming from overseas.

The number of omicron cases in the southeast Asian country have so far reached 414, comprising mostly of Indonesian nationals and those who had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest data from the Indonesian Ministry of Health.

Almost 90 percent of the recent cases were imported, with travelers from Saudi Arabia topping the list, followed by those arriving from Turkey, the US, and the UAE.

Speaking during a weekly virtual press conference, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan, who has been overseeing the Indonesian COVID-19 response, said: “If it’s possible, please do not travel abroad for the next two to three weeks. Let the wave subside over there, there’s no need to come here and bring the disease.”

Official figures showed that the omicron variant had now tripled compared to the number of cases in late December when it stood at 136. Indonesia officially confirmed its first omicron case on Dec. 16.

Indonesian Minister of Health Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that, so far, omicron in the archipelago nation appeared to be more transmissible but less severe and called on the population to maintain health and safety protocols.

“We will face this wave from the omicron variant. There is no need to panic as we have prepared ourselves well, and experience showed us that while spikes happen quickly, this omicron wave also goes down pretty fast,” he added.

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Indonesia reported a total of 454 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, with more than 6,300 active cases nationwide. Despite recording an uptick in infections, the current situation was far from the country’s outbreak peak in July driven by the delta variant, when cases soared upwards of 50,000 a day.

In December, the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that daily cases in Indonesia, triggered by the omicron variant, would reach more than 387,000 by April.

Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Griffith University, recently told Arab News: “Of course, it’s a big, big possibility (Indonesia) will achieve that number, even higher than that number, because of the ability of the omicron variant.”

However, he pointed out that the officially reported cases would not match real numbers in the community, as had “already been shown during the alpha and delta waves.”

He added: “Due to limited capacity of detection, the number that the government will report and find might not be even half of the predictions, maybe around 50,000 or something.”



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