Coronavirus: Indonesia to suspend live animal imports from China

China is the biggest buyer of Indonesian goods and commodities, contributing to about 15 per cent of Indonesian exports. PHOTO: ST FILE

JAKARTA - Indonesia will temporarily stop importing live animals from China to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to South-east Asia's largest economy, chief economic minister Airlangga Hartarto said on Tuesday (Feb 4).

As the virus can be spread from human to human and transmitted through wild animals, the government will soon issue a regulation to ban the import of live animals from China, and the rule will be applied retroactively, the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Bogor Presidential Palace.

This means that any shipment of animals that arrived in Indonesia recently will be returned to China.

He added that the ban will not affect the import of goods, particularly food products like garlic and fruits, which do not transmit the virus. The outbreak originated in Wuhan, Hubei province.

The Health Ministry's director for infectious disease control and prevention, Ms Wiendra Waworuntu, at another press briefing on Tuesday, confirmed that "food and drinks do not spread the new coronavirus".

China is the biggest buyer of Indonesian goods and commodities, contributing to about 15 per cent of Indonesian exports.

The East Asian nation buys coal, stainless steel and palm oil from Indonesia, while Indonesia buys fruit, spices and other food and beverages from China.

Indonesia's live animal imports from China, including snakes, turtles, primates and other mammals, were valued at about US$348,000 (S$477,000) in 2018, according to the Trade Ministry.

The decision not to ban food and beverage imports was revealed on Monday by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan to The Straits Times, denying an earlier statement about the plan made by Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto, as quoted by Reuters.

The Cabinet, led by President Joko Widodo, had met to decide on measures to help Indonesia tackle a possible outbreak. As of Tuesday, Indonesia has yet to report any confirmed case of the coronavirus, with 38 people under observation so far all testing negative for it, according to the latest figures from the Health Ministry.

Measures are being taken to help the tourism sector, which is expected to feel the impact of a decline in foreign tourist arrivals due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Indonesia has banned the entry of visitors who had been in China in the last 14 days, and will temporarily stop flights to and from the country from Wednesday.

Airlines will be encouraged to put up more flights for Indonesians to visit domestic tourist destinations.

"The government will make some efforts to allow visitors to Bali, Bintan, and Manado to get special rates," Mr Airlangga said.

Some 2.1 million Chinese tourists visited Indonesia last year, forming the second-largest group of foreign arrivals after Malaysians, according to data from Statistics Indonesia.

Jakarta will also push for Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events to be held at tourism spots across the vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.

Mr Airlangga also said that the government would be providing visa extensions of up to a month for Chinese visitors who are unable to return to China due to travel restrictions.

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