JAKARTA -- Indonesia's government has begun internal discussions on restarting regular travel to and from China, South Korea, Japan, and Australia, despite coronavirus cases in the country showing no signs of slowing down.
Odo Manuhutu, deputy coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, said Friday in a virtual news conference that the country's foreign ministry will draw up criteria for a so-called "travel bubble" with the four countries.
The four countries are particularly important for Southeast Asia's largest economy, accounting for a large percentage of tourists and investment inflows. China and Japan provided more than a third of foreign direct investment into Indonesia in 2019, while Chinese and Australians together accounted for over 20% of foreign visitors last year.
"In addition to the high level of tourists, there are also business interests with these four countries as well," the deputy minister said, adding travel agreements with these four countries would become "prototypes for opening up to other countries."
Travel bubbles refer to agreements between two or more countries that have contained COVID-19 to open their borders to one another and resume regular travel.
Indonesia becomes the second country in Southeast Asia to talk up a travel bubble this week after neighboring Thailand said countries like China and Japan were keen on discussing such proposition with Bangkok.
The internal discussion is another sign of Indonesia trying to return to business as usual as the country's economy is hobbled by the pandemic. Economic growth slumped to a 19-year low in the first quarter of this year, and some economists are expecting a slip into negative growth in the coming quarters.
The slowdown has prompted some provinces in the country to start easing large-scale social restrictions, locally known as PSBB. In Jakarta, offices and street-side restaurants have been allowed to open again, albeit with strict social distancing measures, and shopping malls are slated to open from next week.
But critics have raised concerns over a premature opening up of the economy, as confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to climb. Over the past week, new confirmed infections have averaged nearly 1,000 per day. Total confirmed cases stood at 36,406 on Friday -- the second-largest tally in the region, after Singapore -- while the death toll reached 2,048.