Indonesia to build hospital for coronavirus patients on Galang Island

A woman puts on a protective mask at Sudirman Station in Jakarta, on Feb 4, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia plans to build a hospital to treat people infected by the coronavirus on Galang Island in the Riau Islands, said Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono on Tuesday (March 3).

The health facility will be located around an hour's drive from the airport in Batam and will have better accessibility than Sebaru Kecil Island, near Jakarta, where 257 crew members of two cruise ships - World Dream and Diamond Princess - are being quarantined, he told reporters in Jakarta.

He added that the army will help the construction and the hospital will be run by the health ministry.

The world's fourth most populous nation with more than 260 million people had quarantined 237 Indonesians and one foreign spouse evacuated from Wuhan, China, on Natuna Islands in the Riau Islands from Feb 2 to Feb 16. But, the move gained opposition from the locals fearful of the fast-spreading infection, prompting the government to pick an uninhabited island as an alternative quarantine site.

Galang was once a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees camp for over 170,000 people seeking refuge from conflicts across South-east Asia, and was closed in 1996.

At present, Indonesia has 14 referral hospitals at the national level tasked with tackling Covid-19. Another 20 hospitals at the provincial level and another 132 hospitals at the regional level are also prepared to handle patients infected by the virus.

Sulianti Saroso Infectious Disease Hospital in Jakarta is currently treating the country's first two Covid-19 patients - a 31-year-old woman and her 64-year-old mother.

The health ministry's secretary of the directorate-general for disease control and prevention, Mr Achmad Yurianto, said both of them are in good condition, based on the hospital's report on Tuesday.

"They are better (today) than yesterday. They have no complaints. But, we still need to isolate them because they are confirmed positive," he told reporters.

Although another family member of the two patients and their maid had tested negative for the virus, local health authorities continued to track around 50 participants of a dance event attended by one of them, said Mr Achmad, noting that these efforts have been complicated by a number of them having left Jakarta.

All 188 crew members of World Dream cruise ship under observation in Sebaru had tested negative, while 67 out of 69 crew members of Diamond Princess cruise liner, also under similar observation, had also tested negative, he said.

Testing is done by taking nasal and throat swabs, as well as samples of sputum.

"We are still examining further two specimens. We will repeat (the tests) on them," said Mr Achmad, who now serves as the government spokesman on the issue.

Apart from the crew members, the ministry has tested 155 suspected cases nationwide, including the first two positive cases. It is re-examining samples from four people, while the majority rest had came back negative.

Mr Achmad further said that starting on Tuesday, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the virus will be expanded by the 10 laboratories controlled by the Health Ministry in cities outside Jakarta - Batam, Medan, Palembang, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Banjarmasin, Manado, Makassar and Ambon - to allow much faster response.

"We have trained personnel there and they can take the samples. They will be supervised by health ministry's research and development team," he said.

In addition to polymerase chain reaction tests, Indonesia also uses gene-sequencing, which takes about three days to complete, to detect the Covid-19.

Despite more measures to contain the virus spread in Indonesia and prevent local transmissions, some citizens were uncooperative.

In Batam, 13 of the 15 people who had contact with Case 103 in Singapore have been quarantined, but two others refused to comply. The latter two work as ride-hailing motorcycle drivers, said Riau Islands health agency chief Tjetjep Yudiana.

"One of them was quarantined, but then fled, whereas the other had refused (since the beginning) and now can't be contacted," he said. "They refused to be quarantined because they fear losing their livelihood and income. We're seeking ways to give them compensation fees."

Indonesia has announced a raft of assistance measures funded by 10.3 trillion rupiah (S$1 billion) from this year's state budget to minimise the impact of the epidemic on its businesses, and is expected to roll out a second stimulus package that will relax export and import rules.

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