JAKARTA: Indonesia has done a good job in handling its evacuees from China's Hubei province, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday (Feb 15).
Hubei's capital Wuhan is the epicentre of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, which has claimed more than 1,500 lives in China.
WHO's Indonesia representative, Dr Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, was on hand to welcome 285 evacuees back to Jakarta after they spent 14 days in quarantine on Indonesia’s Natuna island.
The evacuees, which comprised 238 Indonesian citizens who lived in Hubei and Indonesian officials and Batik Air Crew who were involved in the evacuation process, were flown to Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma airport on Saturday afternoon.
“It was very well done, everyone was healthy. And mentally as well, they were kept healthy because if you usually (confine) people it is important that they are mentally healthy as well," said Dr Navaratnasamy.
"They were exercising and there were other sessions to keep them together, and I think the job was done very well; kudos to the government of Indonesia. Well done."
Concerns have been raised in recent days over whether Indonesia was carrying out thorough checks amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, as the country had yet to record a single infected case of COVID-19.
Indonesia has direct air links to several Chinese cities, including Wuhan.
Responding to CNA’s query on how Indonesia had done so far, Dr Navaratnasamy said: “As of this morning, the health research and development agency had tested 92 suspect cases. Ninety of them tested negative and that’s the same information I have."
The Indonesian representative of WHO also said that the evacuees did not have COVID-19 because they had not come into close contact with someone who had the disease.
"If you ask me why the evacuees did not get the coronavirus, it's because they did not come into close contact with somebody who already had the coronavirus. As simple as that," he said.
14 DAYS QUARANTINE PERIOD ENOUGH
When asked whether the 14 days incubation period of the evacuees was enough as there were cases where symptoms only emerged after 24 days, Dr Navaratnasamy said 14 days was the current guideline given by the WHO.
“We have not looked at the evidence yet. We are looking at a normal incubation period. So the average incubation period is only five to six days. It’s not up to 14 days," said Dr Navaratnasamy.
“So when you have (285) people, if no one has shown symptoms, up to the fifteenth day, then we have no reason to worry about that.”
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Indonesia’s health minister Terawan Agus Putranto also welcomed the evacuees on Saturday afternoon and said they were all healthy.
The minister also dismissed suggestions that the returnees should avoid crowded areas.
“There’s no such thing like that. They can mingle, if they want to watch the Java Jazz festival that’s okay,” Mr Putranto said referring to the annual jazz festival that is slated to begin on Feb 28 in Jakarta.
HAPPY TO BE HOME
Indonesia's youngest evacuee is 5 years old, and the eldest aged 64, according to government data. But most of those evacuated were mostly university students in Hubei.
“We want to thank everyone. We are healthy while being under quarantined in Natuna, no one has been contaminated with the coronavirus," said Ms Yuli Chaniago, a PhD student of Central China Normal University.
“And none of us has shown any symptoms of it."
Ms Chaniago and two other students said they had a good time being quarantined in Natuna, even though locals originally protested the government’s decision to make the island a quarantine site.
“We were checked every day. We were given meals three times a day ... And some continued studying online,” Ms Chaniago said while her friends Sinta and Gerard nodded.
They also said they had a medical check-up before leaving Natuna and were given a letter to state they were healthy.
The students also revealed how it was living in locked down Wuhan.
“During the lockdown in Wuhan, we couldn’t go anywhere but that was our choice," said Ms Sinta.
“The Chinese government didn’t tell us to stay at home, but because we were afraid to get contaminated by the virus – because it spreads so fast – we decided to minimise activity outdoors."
The students said they would monitor the COVID-19 situation in China before making a decision to return.