Coronavirus pandemic

Compulsory for Indonesians to wear masks in public

Indonesia's health authorities have made it mandatory for citizens to wear face masks when venturing outside in a tough new measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has killed nearly 200 and infected almost 2,300 in the country.

The Health Ministry's director-general for disease control and prevention, Dr Achmad Yurianto, said everyone would have to wear masks in public, with effect from yesterday, in line with a recommendation from the World Health Organisation. "Surgical masks and N95 masks are only for medical workers. Please use cloth masks. This is important because we don't know if many people without symptoms are out there," he said at a daily press conference.

Indonesia reported 181 new coronavirus cases yesterday, taking the total number of infections in the country to 2,273. There were seven deaths over a 24-hour period, taking overall fatalities in the world's fourth-most populous nation to 198, the highest in South-east Asia. The number of recovered patients was up by 14 to 164.

"With this data, we believe that the transmission is ongoing. There are still asymptomatic cases among us. Some of us still don't realise that we are vulnerable to infections," Dr Yurianto said of the latest figures.

The authorities have estimated that between 600,000 and 700,000 people are at risk of being infected by the virus. The government is expanding testing on a war-footing to curtail the outbreak.

President Joko Widodo declared a public health emergency on March 31. The government also introduced large-scale social distancing measures that include the closure of schools and workplaces, the restriction of religious, social and cultural activities, events in public places or facilities, and transport curbs. Although the restrictions apply to many aspects of life, essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations will continue to operate.

Dr Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, has estimated that with the current social distancing measures, there would be between 1.25 million and 1.75 million infections in Indonesia, with 47,984 to 144,266 deaths. The outbreak is predicted to peak in late May or early June, he told The Straits Times.

Meanwhile, public health experts and regional leaders had called for the Indonesian government to ban the annual mass exodus or "mudik" from cities for the Eid ul-Fitri festival, over fear that millions of people from Jakarta, now the epicentre of the outbreak, would spread the disease to their hometowns across the archipelago.

However, President Joko resisted the call, instead ordering the monitoring of potential carriers.

Separately, the Philippine government said it was considering extending a lockdown on the main island of Luzon for two weeks. The current lockdown is set to expire on April 12. The country reported 152 new cases yesterday, taking the number of infections to 3,246. There were also eight more deaths, taking the toll to 152.

And Thailand reported 102 more confirmed cases of coronavirus infection yesterday, taking the total number in the country to 2,169. The death toll increased by three to 23, with a 46-year-old Thai man who had returned from Britain among the victims.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2020, with the headline 'Compulsory for Indonesians to wear masks in public'. Print Edition | Subscribe