Indonesia tightens screening of travellers at entry points

Indonesia has stepped up the health screening of inbound travellers at airports and seaports after the Wuhan pneumonia-like virus was detected in a Chinese visitor flying into Thailand, with those from Singapore being more closely examined at the nearby holiday islands of Batam and Bintan.

Thermal scanners have been installed at all entry checkpoints across the country to screen the temperatures of inbound travellers in anticipation of an outbreak, the Health Ministry said yesterday.

In the Riau Islands, the province's health agency and seaport health office have since Jan 7 activated thermal scanners at international ferry seaports in Batam, Bintan and Karimun to screen passengers arriving from Singapore.

"So far, we have not found any passenger with a body temperature higher than the normal range. If we do, we will further check the respective passenger," Riau Islands health agency chief Tjetjep Yudiana said yesterday.

Batam Health Agency chief Didi Kusumayadi said that his office has contacted officials from Singapore's Health Ministry and exchanged information about the virus.

He added that the seaport health office has also deployed personnel, armed with manual thermal detectors, to check passengers arriving at the seaports.

Two hospitals on the island are on standby to manage visitors detected with the virus.

The authorities are on alert in North Sumatra as well, with Kualanamu International Airport, near the provincial capital of Medan, having deployed thermal scanners two weeks ago in anticipation of a larger number of Chinese tourists visiting over the Chinese New Year period, said Ms Paulina Simbolon, acting communication and legal manager at the airport.

From January to November last year, around 1.92 million Chinese tourists visited Indonesia, making up 12.87 per cent of all inbound tourists, government figures showed. The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry is expecting around 200,000 Chinese visitors during Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan 25.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Thailand are on alert following the discovery of a Chinese woman infected with the new coronavirus.

She had travelled from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started, to Bangkok, where she has since been quarantined.

In Wuhan, one person has died and 41 cases of the virus have been reported. A coronavirus can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The Chinese city's health authorities said on Tuesday no new cases or deaths have emerged, Agence France-Presse reported.

While the discovery of a person infected with the virus in Thailand raised the alarm in Jakarta, Indonesia's Health Ministry director-general for disease control and prevention Anung Sugihantono said that, for the moment, there is no need to issue a travel alert for China.

"Indonesia follows (the steps taken by) the World Health Organisation (WHO). For now, we have not issued a travel advisory," he told The Straits Times.

The Health Ministry has so far advised Indonesian travellers intending to visit Hong Kong and China to pay attention to the development of the outbreak in China, avoid visits to seafood markets or markets selling live animals, and to see a doctor there if they are unwell, among other things.

WHO has yet to issue any travel restriction following the outbreak. However, it is preparing for the possibility of a wider outbreak and has provided hospitals worldwide with preventive and control measures should the virus spread.

As Chinese tourists are expected to flock to Thailand ahead of the Chinese New Year, WHO has called on the Thai authorities, the public and holidaymakers to be on alert.

According to China's biggest online travel operator Ctrip.com, Thailand is the second-most popular overseas destination for Chinese tourists, after Japan, which is also stepping up screening at ports of entry following the outbreak.

Japan is expecting an increase in Chinese visitors over the Chinese New Year holiday as well, Nikkei reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2020, with the headline 'Indonesia tightens screening of travellers at entry points'. Print Edition | Subscribe