Indonesia on Monday extended the closure of its borders to foreigners for another two weeks until Jan. 28 over coronavirus fears, while its drug monitoring agency approved the emergency use of China's CoronaVac vaccine across the vast archipelago.
President Joko Widodo "approved to extend the barring of foreigners from entering Indonesia...for...14 days," Coordinating Minister for the Economy Airlangga Hartarto told reporters after a limited Cabinet meeting, citing the new variant as one reason.
Last month, the government barred all foreign visitors, except for ministerial-level government officials and long-term residents, from entering the country, as it tries to keep out a potentially more transmissible variant of the coronavirus.
Drug and Food Monitoring Agency head Penny Lukito told a press conference that the CoronaVac vaccine "can be approved for emergency use" based on data and referring to the World Health Organization guidelines of requirement to approve the emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech Inc. in cooperation with Indonesian state-owned pharmaceutical company PT Bio Farma, was the first new coronavirus vaccine approved for emergency use by Indonesia.
According to Lukito, analysis results from clinical trials in Indonesia show that the vaccine's efficacy rate is 65.3 percent, above 50 percent as required by the WHO. The efficacy rate of the same vaccine was 91.25 percent in Turkey and 78 percent in Brazil.
About 1.3 million medical workers across Indonesia will be on the priority list to be vaccinated, with President Joko Widodo scheduled to get the first shot on Wednesday, according to Health Minister Budi Sadikin.
A total of 3 million doses of CoronaVac have been distributed for emergency use across the archipelago. Meanwhile, 15 million CoronaVac doses in bulk will arrive in Jakarta on Thursday to be filled into vials by PT Bio Farma, Sadikin said.
Last week, the vaccines were declared "holy and halal (allowed by Islam)" by the Indonesian Ulemas' Council, the country's semi-official body for Islamic affairs that issues religious edicts.
The vaccination for the country's population of 270 million people, according to the health minister, is expected to be completed within 15 months.
Sadikin also announced a relaxation of regulations to allow about 10,000 nurses who have not yet been registered to contribute to efforts to tackle the growing number of coronavirus cases in the country.
He said his ministry is also discussing with the Indonesian Doctors' Association to do the same for doctors as there are currently about 3,000 medical school graduates who have yet to receive their licenses.
The minister called on hospitals to increase allocation of beds for new coronavirus patients as they have been crowding hospitals in the country, particularly on the densely populated islands of Java and Bali, prompting fears of a collapse of the health care system.
"In November, we had about 50,000 active (new COVID-19) cases, (but) nowadays the active cases have been about 120,000," Sadikin said. "This is the problem we're going to face this week, next week, until the end of January or early February," he added.
As of Monday, Indonesia had recorded 836,718 cases of infection, with 24,343 deaths.