Coronavirus: Indonesia insists on travel ban despite China's protest

Women wearing face masks walk in a playground in Banda Aceh on Feb 2, 2020, as a preventative measure following a virus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Women wearing face masks walk in a playground in Banda Aceh on Feb 2, 2020, as a preventative measure following a virus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia has insisted on imposing a travel ban to and from China as an effort to prevent a deadly coronavirus from spreading into the country, even after a Chinese envoy expressed his disagreement over the plan.

Transportation minister Budi Karya Sumadi confirmed that Indonesia would stick to the travel ban, which will take effect at 12am on Wednesday (Feb 5).

"Yes, it will start at (midnight)," Mr Budi told reporters on Tuesday. "We're doing what other countries have already done. We have been very careful about this."

Mr Budi said meetings with the management of domestic airlines would take place on Wednesday to discuss related matters, including the calculation of potential losses they may suffer as a result of the policy.

He added that the government was finalising a policy regarding cargo planes if goods were still being flown to Indonesia. It includes a requirement that the flight crew must undergo a medical inspection upon arrival and cannot get off the plane.

Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian had previously asked Indonesia to follow the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has not recommended that countries restrict travel to and from China despite having declared a global emergency over the new coronavirus.

"In this situation, we need to be calm. Don't overreact and do something that would have a negative impact on investments and the (Indonesian) economy," Mr Xiao told reporters in Jakarta during a press briefing on Tuesday.

Mr Xiao said he understood that some countries were taking "rational action" in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, such as by tightening immigration security

"Indonesia and China are neighbours and good friends," he said. "I believe that actions other than restrictions will have a direct impact on the relationship.

"(The ban) actually harms Indonesia's tourism and economy," Mr Xiao said, adding that the impact from the restrictive measures still needed to be calculated but he hoped that such measures would not need to be taken.

"We hope that Indonesia can be rational and not experience any negative impact."

 

Foreign minister Retno Marsudi told a televised news conference on Sunday that Indonesia would immediately bar visitors who had been in China for 14 days.

Earlier on Sunday, the government flew 243 Indonesians from China and placed them under quarantine at a military base on the sparsely populated Natuna regency in Riau Islands.

Mr Budi said the government was also discussing efforts to handle around 3,000 Indonesian citizens who were still in China at the moment.

Transiting in a country that has not imposed a travel ban on China was one solution, he said.

 
 
 

Tourism and creative economy minister Wishnutama Kusubandio said the travel ban would be a big challenge for the country's tourism as the number of Chinese tourists was quite large, about two million in a year.

"Once again, our main priority is protecting the health of the Indonesian people. That is the main thing to consider at the moment," he said.

He said the ministry would instead boost domestic tourism and encourage local tourists to travel within Indonesia, also for the sake of reducing the risk of contracting the coronavirus abroad.

"Together with the Transportation Ministry, we will set a meeting with about 30 airlines to see the possibility of switching their international routes to domestic ones," he said, adding that regions most affected by the travel ban would be Bali, North Sulawesi and Bintan Island in Riau.