By Stanley Widianto
JAKARTA (Reuters) - International visitors will be barred from entering Indonesia for a two-week period to try to keep out a new potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus, its foreign minister Retno Marsudi said on Monday.
The new regulation, effective Jan. 1, comes days after Indonesia banned travelers from the Britain and tightened rules for those arriving from Europe and Australia to limit the spread of the new variant.
Indonesia earlier this year banned all foreign tourists from entry but some exemptions have been made for business travelers. The new regulation applies to all foreign visitors, except for high-level government officials, she said.
The world's fourth most populous country has struggled to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus since recording its first case in March, now with nearly 720,000 confirmed infections and 21,500 deaths, among the highest in Asia.
It announced 5,854 new infections and 215 deaths on Monday, with the positivity rate above 20% in recent days.
In recent weeks Indonesia's healthcare system has come under strain with hospitals on Java island forced to add more beds as emergency wards near capacity.
Senior health ministry official Abdul Kadir on Monday said hospitals were in danger of becoming overwhelmed by a possible year-end holiday infections spike, with occupancy in the capital Jakarta already reaching 84%.
In West Java, Indonesia's most populated province, hospital occupancy is currently at 83%, and in East Java, 77%, he said.
"This means that these regions are in the red zone. The bed capacity is now in red zone. Any uptick will overwhelm hospitals," he said, adding that 500 beds would be added in the greater Jakarta area.
(This story corrects paragraph 3 to remove exemption of foreigners with residency permits, incorrectly attributed to Retno.)
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Martin Petty)