JAKARTA – Indonesia has given the go-ahead for a national soccer tournament this month that will see matches take place across the country with strict health protocols in place, but public health experts believe the rules must to be further strengthened.
The tournament kicks off next Friday (August 27), after the Indonesian Football Federation received the green light from the national Covid-19 task force on Wednesday.
Under conditions set by the national working group, all players must have been vaccinated and tested negative within 24 hours before each match, and no spectators will be allowed in the stadium, the Jakarta-based news portal Kumparan reported. .com, citing a letter from the task force dated August 18.
The letter gives the green light to the country’s first and second tier tournaments. La Liga 1 consists of 18 top soccer teams across Indonesia, while La Liga 2 consists of 24 teams.
Epidemiologists contacted by The Straits Times on Friday, August 20, said holding the tournament in late August was acceptable.
While they hailed a rule banning spectators from stadiums, they said stricter conditions were needed.
All players must be quarantined for at least seven days before the tournament, during which they must pass two Covid-19 tests, recommended Dr Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia.
“Throughout the tournament, all players must also be quarantined. After each match, they must return directly to the quarantine center. This is possible provided there is consistency and discipline,” he said. Dr Budiman told The Straits Times.
“The organizer must declare all match venues in a timely manner so that the locations of centralized quarantines can be quickly decided,” he added.
In agreement, Dr Adi Sasongko, who teaches public health at the University of Indonesia, said: “By learning about sporting events in other countries, including the Tokyo Olympics, all players should have skills. negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and stay in hotels when not in competition. “
Last year, the tournament saw dozens of matches between February 29 and mid-March before being called off mid-season due to the pandemic.
Plans to resume the 2020 championship between October 2020 and February 2021 have not been approved by the authorities.
Gathering in public to watch football matches – known locally as “nobar” or nonton bareng – is a popular tradition in Indonesia, raising fears that the tournament will draw large crowds.
“Nobar is a risk. People with asymptomatic Covid-19 can pass it on to others,” said Dr Sasongko.
Cafes and restaurants in some towns and regencies in Indonesia that have low cases of Covid-19 remain open.
The country has, however, imposed stricter Covid-19 restrictions in many parts of the archipelago since July 3, but has gradually eased restrictions in Jakarta and several other major cities, including Surabaya (East Java) on August 10.
Shopping malls that had reopened at 25% capacity were allowed to increase capacity to 50% on Tuesday as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions continued to decline.
The most populous nation in Southeast Asia is trying to flatten the epidemic curve, more than 90% due to the more transmissible Delta variant.
Jakarta and East Kalimantan were the two main provinces with this highly transmissible variant, showed a study that sampled 5,084 cases across Indonesia from January to August 16.
The study, which was released on Friday, found that Jakarta had 302 cases of the Delta variant out of a total of 1,128 genome sequencing tests, while East Kalimantan had 147 of the 250 tests. The country’s main tourist island, Bali, had 10 cases of the Delta variant, out of 458 samples collected.
Indonesia has so far reported around 3.95 million cases of Covid-19 and around 124,000 deaths. As of Friday, it recorded 20,004 new cases and 1,348 deaths.