Disquiet in Indonesia’s Natuna over use of island as quarantine site amid coronavirus outbreak

Disquiet in Indonesia’s Natuna over use of island as quarantine site amid coronavirus outbreak

Medical officers prepare evacuated Indonesian nationals from Wuhan, China's center of the coro
Medical officers prepare evacuated Indonesian nationals from Wuhan, China's center of the coronavirus epidemic, before transferring them to the Natuna Islands military base to be quarantined, at Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, Riau Islands. (Photo: Reuters)

JAKARTA: Residents on Natuna island have expressed concern that the regency is not adequately equipped to accommodate Indonesian citizens who have been quarantined after being evacuated from Wuhan.

“It’s not that we don’t accept the people, we are just very afraid of the virus. Natuna island is very small. If it (the novel coronavirus) spreads, everything will be finished,” Ranai resident Mr Kiki Firdaus told CNA on Monday (Feb 3).

He expressed disappointment that the central government did not inform residents beforehand that their island had been designated as a quarantine site.

“Suddenly they unloaded logistics in Natuna. Of course, we feel betrayed,” he said.

Mr Firdaus and hundreds of others have demonstrated in front of the local parliament, the naval base and at the airport since Saturday.

Evacuees Novel Coronavirus Natuna
Hundreds of people held a protest in front of Ranai's naval base on Feb 1, 2020 to protest against the quarantine of evacuees from Hubei on Natuna island. (Photo: Kiki Firdaus)

There are more than 280 people, including flight crew and personnel who are now quarantined in Natuna after returning from China’s Hubei province.

They arrived in Natuna’s capital Ranai, a city of around 20,000 people, on Sunday and locals are against the government’s move to quarantine them for 14 days there.

READ: Wuhan coronavirus - Batik Air to evacuate Indonesians in Hubei

READ: Chinese vessels leaving Natuna after days of stand-off with Indonesia

Midwife Mdm Zakiah, who attended one of the protests, said that there are limited medical facilities in Natuna.

“I know the equipment is limited. Natuna only has a military hospital and the local hospital where I work,” she said.

Mdm Zakiah, who only wanted to be known by her first name, said the only protective equipment available for healthcare workers is surgical masks.

“We don’t have bodysuits … We are afraid that if people are contaminated and they have to come to our hospital, what should we do?”

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The midwife also pointed out that Ranai city often suffers from electrical blackouts, making it a less than ideal place for quarantine and medical treatment.

Medical officers prepare evacuated Indonesian nationals from Wuhan, China's center of the coro
Medical officers prepare evacuated Indonesian nationals from Wuhan, China's center of the coronavirus epidemic, before transferring them to the Natuna Islands military base to be quarantined, at Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, Riau Islands. (Photo: Reuters)

CONFUSION OVER QUARANTINE AREA

On the ground, there has been confusion over the location of the quarantine area.

Military chief Hadi Tjahjanto previously said the evacuees will be quarantined in a place about 5-6 km away from residents. However, as of Monday morning, they were quarantined near the airport, less than 2 km away from a housing area, Mdm Zakiah said.

“If the place (for quarantine) is a bit further, perhaps I’d be a bit calmer. I have a five-year-old daughter,” she said.

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Financial planner Mr Erwin, who goes by one name, shared the same concern as he lives near the airport.

“We are not trying to repel them … I want a guarantee from the central government that nothing will happen to Natuna.

“People on social media are saying that the people of Natuna don’t want to work together with the government. It’s not that. We just want clarity and to feel secure and safe,” said the 30-year-old.

A medical staff prepares equipment at a lung isolate-room specialised for the patients affected by
A medical staff prepares equipment at a lung isolate-room specialised for the patients affected by coronavirus at a hospital in Dumai, Riau province, Indonesia, January 25, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Aswaddy Hamid/ via REUTERS

On Monday, the local government said elementary and junior high schools will be closed until Feb 17.

When approached by CNA, member of Natuna parliament Wan Arismunandar said the decision to close the schools was in response to the people’s will.

“If we didn’t grant them their wish, they would not send their children to school anyway,” he said. 

READ: Australia virus evacuees head for Christmas Island quarantine

But later in the day, the local government said it might retract the decision at the recommendation of the home affairs ministry. This sparked confusion among parents.  

NATUNA REGENT TO SEEK CLARITY FROM JAKARTA

Mr Arismunandar added that protests have taken place over the past few days because people were not well informed about the latest situation, including the nature of the coronavirus.

“We have to be the middlemen here because this is the programme of the central government,” he said.

“(At the same time), we have to accept the concerns of the people. We have conveyed their concerns to the provincial government, and we have urged the provincial government to push the central government to give an answer (to people’s concerns),” Mr Arismunandar said.

READ: China says it 'urgently needs' medical masks to tackle virus

He said Natuna’s regent and several other officials are going to Jakarta to seek an audience with the president so that there could be more clarity over the quarantine arrangements.

Novel Coronavirus protes in Ranai, Natuna
Protesters in Ranai, Natuna on Feb 1, 2020 demanded the government to quarantine Indonesian evacuees from Hubei, in a safer environment. (Photo: Kiki Firdaus)

Speaking in Bogor, West Java, on Monday, President Joko Widodo thanked the people of Natuna and outlined the rationale of using the island as a quarantine site.  

"Not all islands can be used. We measured the level of preparedness of the health teams. Thus, the decision of the team is (to quarantine the evacuees) in Natuna," the president said.

In a meeting with the parliament on Monday, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto pledged to work with the Natuna government to ensure that things will proceed smoothly.

There has been no confirmed case of the coronavirus in Indonesia.

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Source: CNA/ks(aw)

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