The Indonesian airline Garuda started administering free coronavirus vaccinations to domestic holidaymakers and travellers at Jakarta airport on Wednesday.
The innovation is part of efforts to reduce the impact of the virus in one of Asia’s worst-affected countries.
About 20 passengers took advantage of the free shots on the opening day of the programme at Soekarno-Hatta International airport, which has the capacity to vaccinate 200 domestic travellers per day.
“This vaccine gives me confidence but still, we have to obey health protocol because we’re not 100% immune. But at least it gives a sense of calm,” Cecep Taufiqurohman, 32, told Reuters after receiving his vaccine.
Flag carrier Garuda is offering the Sinovac vaccine to help expedite a national immunisation programme that had a slow start with only 13 million of the country’s more than 270 million people fully vaccinated since January.
Indonesia has reported record new infections in two of the past three days, and authorities are considering emergency restrictions to arrest the spread.
“We can reach herd immunity in society and we can leave the pandemic behind,” said the airline’s director of service Ade Susardi, explaining the aim of the project.
President Joko Widodo on Wednesday pledged to increase vaccinations to one million doses per day in July and two million in August, up from what he said was about 200,000 to 300,000 a day at present.
The news comes as Indonesia’s government announced it will wait until Covid-19 cases fall significantly before opening Bali to foreign tourists.
The pandemic has devastated the economy of Bali, for decades a magnet for holidaymakers thanks to its spectacular beaches, vibrant nightlife and distinctive Hindu culture.
“We were targeting the end of July, beginning of August, but we just have to be mindful of where we are in this recent spike,” Indonesia’s Tourism and Cultural Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. “We will be waiting for the situation to be more conducive.”
Coronavirus infections have surged across Indonesia in recent weeks, including in Bali, according to official data.
The true extent of Bali’s infections is masked by its low testing rates, which stand at 15% of the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization, according to data released by the global health body.
Indonesia’s government has prioritised Bali for vaccinations, and is seeing good early results as most people infected with coronavirus showed only mild symptoms, Uno said.
About 71% of Balinese had received a first vaccine dose, and the target of full vaccination for 70% of its population could be achieved by the end of July, Uno said.
When it reopens, as well as traditional tourists, Bali hopes to attract”digital nomads” – international entrepreneurs operating internet-based companies.
They will be granted five-year visas under the proposed scheme.
“If they earn income within Indonesia they will be taxed but if it’s solely from overseas there will be zero tax,” Uno said.