Coronavirus: Indonesians evacuated from Wuhan quarantined in Natuna Islands

Medical officers spraying Indonesians with antiseptic on their arrival home from Wuhan, on Feb 2, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - More than 200 Indonesians evacuated from Wuhan have arrived on Indonesia's Natuna Islands in Riau Islands province on Sunday (Feb 2) and will be quarantined for 14 days before they can return to their home towns.

They had passed health screenings by the Chinese authorities before being allowed to board a plane from Wuhan on Saturday, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 300 people and infected more than 14,000 worldwide.

Initially, 245 people were to be evacuated, but four persons withdrew and three others did not pass health checks by the Chinese authorities, resulting in 238 people being evacuated, including one foreigner married to an Indonesian, Health Ministry spokesman Widyawati told a press briefing on Monday.

"Although they have passed exit screening by the Chinese government, they will be re-examined. This complies with world health standards to ensure the condition of their health," she said.

She added the latest health checks after arrival showed that all of them were in good health.

Earlier, Natuna residents held protests against the plan to place the evacuees from Wuhan in their district, which shares maritime borders with Asian neighbours, such as Malaysia, Vietnam and China.

The residents feared infection and said that the military hangar being used as the quarantine centre was too close to residential areas.

As of Monday, Indonesia has yet to see any confirmed coronavirus case as all 34 people under observation, including seven foreigners, have tested negative. Its fellow Asean members, including Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, have had a number of confirmed cases.

The Philippines on Sunday reported the first fatality outside China after a 44-year old Chinese visitor died from the virus.

Dr Anung Sugihantono, Indonesian Health Ministry's director-general for disease control and prevention, said the Indonesians have been placed in 10 tents and seven rooms in a hangar on Natuna Islands, chosen with considerations of "time, the capacity and emergency of the emerging disease".

"From the health perspective, we make sure that if this is an airborne disease, it will not spread to the community," he said.

The 238 people will be allowed to take part in various activities from sports to arts during the quarantine period as they undergo daily health checks attended by a team of doctors and medical staff, he added.

Dr Anung also said that if anyone of them experiences respiratory problems or tests positive within the 14-day quarantine period, medical evacuation will be carried out.

Indonesia said it has taken extra measures against the spread of the virus after the World Health Organisation declared the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency last week.

Indonesian authorities began on Sunday to ban the entry of visitors who had been in China in the last 14 days and will temporarily halt flights to and from mainland China from Wednesday.

For now, passengers coming from China must pass special gates in Ngurah Rai Internatioanl Airport in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia's most popular tourism hot spot, and at the country's main entry point, Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, said Dr Anung.

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