Indonesian cigarette factory temporarily shut after 2 workers die of coronavirus

As many as 323 workers who were asymptomatic underwent rapid tests and 63 tested positive. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - A 500-worker, East Java cigarette factory owned by an Indonesian subsidiary of US-based Philip Morris has been temporarily closed after two of its labourers died of the coronavirus, local authorities said.

The factory is operated by publicly-listed, Surabaya-based HM Sampoerna, the biggest cigarette producer in Indonesia, with some 26,000 workers.

Sampoerna is 92.5 per cent owned by Philip Morris.

The factory's closure is unlikely to affect the company's total production as Sampoerna has cigarette factories in several other locations.

The temporary shutdown is keenly watched in Indonesia, where about 60 per cent of the male population are smokers.

Two of the company's labourers who worked in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, died on April 14 and tested positive for Covid-19.

Nine fellow workers who showed symptoms later were sent to a hospital for treatment, local media reported, citing Dr Joni Wahyuhadi, head of medical team of the province's Covid-19 task force.

As many as 323 workers who did not show symptoms underwent rapid tests and 63 of them had positive results, state news agency Antara reported, citing Dr Joni, who added that more rapid tests would be conducted.

As many as 165 of the workers have taken the more reliable reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, and are awaiting results. Another 100 would be taking the same tests, Dr Joni said.

The company has activated a hotel as a centralised isolation zone. It will take several days before the results of the RT-PCR tests are known.

The local authorities are investigating where the two workers might have caught the deadly virus.

Indonesia has reported more than 10,100 confirmed cases, with 792 deaths caused by Covid-19 as of Thursday (April 30) - the highest number of coronavirus fatalities in South-east Asia.

The vast archipelago, with a population of 270 million, has been hampered by a shortage of testing equipment and the chemicals needed for RT-PCR tests, as well as specialists required to conduct the tests.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.