VACCINATION RATE A CONCERN
First held in 1948 in Solo, Central Java, the quadrennial games have so far mainly taken place on Indonesia’s main island Java.
Papua will become one of the six provinces outside Java island that have hosted the games. It edged out Bali and Aceh and emerged as the host during an Indonesian National Sports Committee meeting in 2014.
Social and political expert from Papuan Customary Council Weynand Watory expressed his worries that the games could create new COVID-19 clusters in Papua.
“The vaccination rate in Papua is very low, only about 16 per cent and PON is forced to be held in October 2021.
“Does this not have the potential to become an arena for transmission to the Papuan people who will be involved in watching the games and other activities. If that happens, who will be responsible, the central government or the local government?” he said when interviewed by CNA.
Mr Edward Sihotang, Jayapura regency health agency secretary, admitted that the vaccination rate there was low.
He cited low literacy and the fact that Papuans have managed to live with malaria without getting vaccinated as challenges in implementing COVID-19 vaccination and health protocols.
“We are dealing with people who have low literacy so they easily believe in hoaxes.
“Education has to be done within communities or even smaller groups to explain (to the locals) that vaccination is good and not harmful,” Mr Sihotang told CNA.
For the games, the aim is to jab about 70 per cent of people with the first dose in the regions where the event will take place.
As of early September, all four regions have vaccinated between 48 per cent and 56 per cent of people with one dose of the vaccine.
In addition, everyone involved in the games directly must be fully vaccinated.
Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, who also heads the COVID-19 Handling and National Economic Recovery (KPCPEN) Committee, pointed out on Sunday (Sep 5) that Papua still has about 12,000 active COVID-19 cases, making it the province with the second biggest active caseload outside of Java.
As of Thursday, Papua has more than 32,000 cases and 360 deaths, while Indonesia has recorded more than 4.1 million cases and 138,000 deaths.
“According to the president’s direction, spectators who have not been vaccinated cannot enter the venues. Therefore, people must be ready to be vaccinated immediately,” said Mr Hartarto.
Mr Gatot Dewa Broto, secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports said that to prevent new COVID-19 cases from emerging, they would adopt standard operational procedures (SOP) similar to the ones imposed at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
These include mandating the contingents to arrive and depart on different days and imposing mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on them before departure and on arrival.
All athletes taking part in the competition must also be fully vaccinated, Mr Broto noted.
He said it has yet to be decided whether spectators would be allowed.