JAKARTA - At least eight family members of 47 Indonesian health workers who contracted Covid-19 after treating 14 sick Filipino ship crew members have tested positive for the coronavirus as the health authorities intensify tracing on their close contacts.
The test results followed checks on 31 families of the infected health workers by Central Java's Cilacap general hospital, which, along with 10 health community centres, is still tracing other families and contacts, Cilacap health agency chief Pramesti Griana Dewi said.
Fifteen health workers have tested negative in two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, while another 12 health workers with mild symptoms are being treated at the hospital. The other 20 without symptoms are self-isolating at home.
"We will gather those on home quarantine in a centralised isolation venue starting from Tuesday (May 25) so that they can be monitored more intensively," Dr Pramesti told The Straits Times, adding that the family members of the infected health workers will also be quarantined in the newly built hospital.
Panama-flagged cargo ship Hilma Bulker, which delivered refined sugar from India with 20 Filipino crew on board, arrived at Tanjung Intan port in Cilacap regency, Central Java, on April 25.
In line with procedures, the Indonesian port authorities carried out rapid antigen tests on crew members and after finding positive results, they continued with PCR tests.
Fourteen of the crew tested positive for the virus, which, based on genome sequencing, was of the B16172 variant first identified in India.
One of them who had shown symptoms upon arrival died after developing severe pneumonia .
Another 10 crew members are still being treated at the hospital, while the remaining three, who had recovered, have left for their country.
The local health authorities have tested 179 health workers in total and 91 workers who had helped the ship dock and unload its cargo. No infections were found among the latter group.
Noting that all the infected health workers had been fully vaccinated, Dr Pramesti alleged that the transmissions were likely due to complacency and non-compliance with the health protocols.
"Most of them have had no symptoms. Only a few have shown symptoms, such as anosmia (loss of smell), fever and digestive problems," she said.
Dr Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist at Surabaya-based Airlangga University, suggested that the local health authorities track at least 30 people in close contact with each infected health worker to prevent wider transmissions.
"It means they must test around 1,400 people. They must isolate as many people as possible. This is to avert the further spread of this variant," he said, describing local transmission of the highly infectious variant as "dangerous".
Criticising the "permissive" attitude of the Indonesian authorities towards ships and aircraft coming from "high-risk" countries, Dr Windhu called for restrictions to be tightened in both seaports and airports.
"All entry points to Indonesia must be well-guarded. There should be a policy to temporarily reject cargo ships from overseas, particularly "red zone" countries," he added.
With more than 1.78 million infections and over 49,000 deaths, Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous nation of 270 million, has experienced the worst Covid-19 outbreak across South-east Asia.
While its health crisis is not as bad as India's, epidemiologists have been cautious over the mass gatherings and massive exodus surrounding this month's Hari Raya Aidilfitri that may trigger a surge in cases.
In April, Indonesia stopped issuing visas for foreigners who had recently been in India.
Dr Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Health Ministry's director for direct infectious disease control and prevention, said the supervision over the entry of foreign vessels will be stepped up.
"Maybe special quarantine will be necessary for such cases," she said, in reference to the Hilma Bulker.