Jakarta (ANTARA) - The Papuans have enthusiastically welcomed the 20th National Sports Week (PON), Indonesia's largest sports event, by following strict health protocol measures against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The PON, which is being held in the country's easternmost province till October 15, 2021, has drawn 6,400 athletes and 3,500 officials from 34 provinces across Indonesia.

It was officially opened by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) at Lukas Enembe Stadium, East Sentani sub-district, Jayapura district, Papua, on October 2.

"Huwe foi, onomi rehmay, wa wa wa. Cheers to sports!" the President greeted spectators in the native language of Papua at the opening ceremony and garnered resounding applause from the audience, whose numbers were restricted to 25 percent of the stadium's total capacity of 40 thousand people.

Jayapura City and the districts of Jayapura, Mimika, and Merauke are co-hosting matches of the first-ever PON organized in Papua Province that is featuring 37 sports branches.

PON Papua has enforced strict health protocols for athletes and those involved in the games from the time of their landing in the province, with each participant required to undergo PCR tests for COVID-19.

On October 9, 2021, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Zainudin Amali confirmed that the PON has been running smoothly despite the emergence of several COVID-19 cases.

"The situation is quite safe in the four clusters. The event will not be halted as there are no major problems," he said.

All participants, including athletes, coaches, and officers are present at every designated match, with no fear or excessive concern, he added.

COVID-19 cases during PON were first detected in Timika and announced on October 5 evening.

Initially, reports had said that 29 people, including athletes, officers, and members of the organizing committee had been exposed to the virus. The 29 athletes comprised 13 people in Timika district, seven in Jayapura district, seven in Jayapura city, and three in Merauke district. Later, the number of COVID-19 cases in the PON increased to 83.

In response to the infections, the PON XX organizing committee has taken precautionary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

According to officials, the majority of those who have contracted the coronavirus have been asymptomatic and have been isolated from their colleagues at different facilities, including the floating isolation centers aboard MV Tidar (Jayapura cluster ) and MV Sirimau (Merauke cluster).

"The matches continue, while health protocols are enforced in accordance with the existing regulations," Amali noted.

He said he will discuss the emergence of COVID-19 infections with the Organizing Committee (PB) and the Supervisory and Steering Committee (Panwasrah) members of the PON XX.

"I will gather PON's Panwasrah and PB, along with all elements involved, in the attempts of minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission through various strategies, including strict enforcement of health protocols (prokes)," he remarked.

The minister said he is optimistic that the PON will run well until the closing ceremony on October 15, which will be attended by Vice President Ma'ruf Amin.

In the meantime, Home Minister Tito Karnavian has issued an instruction to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus disease by asking all athletes, officials, organizing committee members, and spectators to comply with strict COVID-19 health protocols during the multi-sport event.

Athletes competing in events that involve body contact, such as wushu or wrestling, are being tested for antigen before the matches, he said. All spectators are required to wear masks, wash hands, and maintain distance, he added.

Only those who have been vaccinated and have obtained at least the first COVID-19 shot are being allowed to physically watch the matches in local stadiums, he informed.

Meanwhile, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has intensified efforts to curb coronavirus spread, especially in PON XX arenas. The agency has distributed 1,125,173 face masks to athletes, officers, and spectators, among others from September 26-October 6, 2021. Of the total masks, Jayapura city has received 367 thousand masks, Jayapura district 321 thousand masks, Mimika district 188 thousand masks, and Merauke district 249,173 masks.

BNPB official Asep Chaerudin highlighted that the mask distribution has been directly assisted by 3,099 volunteers in the four cities and districts where Papua PON XX is being held.

Meanwhile, BNPB head Ganip Warsito said that he believes the handling of COVID-19 during the Papua National Sports Week (PON) XX is proceeding well. He reviewed several match locations of the Papua PON XX, including the fencing arena at the St Yoseph Church, Merauke, on October 6.

In addition, the spokesperson for the National Task Force for COVID-19 Response, Wiku Adisasmito, assured that the government has tightened the monitoring and evaluation of health protocol compliance at PON venues.

He assured that COVID-19 cases are being immediately handled professionally by local health workers to prevent the spread of infection.

All contingents have been requested to limit their activities outside the matches, he informed. All parties, such as athletes, officials, and spectators, have also been told to uphold sportsmanship and to remain alert to the potential for COVID-19 infection by diligently implementing health protocols, he added.

As for those contracting the virus, he said, the 34 patients have exhibited no symptoms and are expected to make a quick recovery.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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