JAKARTA: A senior Indonesian health official said there is no need to conduct novel coronavirus tests on citizens quarantined after being evacuated from Wuhan, as all 243 people were healthy.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (Feb 6), Dr Windra Waworuntu, the Health Ministry’s director for communicable diseases said: “We don’t take swab samples because they are well. The SOP (standard operating procedure) doesn’t say that we have to take samples from everyone."
“If they are not well, feverish, coughing and sneezing, then we will swab (them for samples). If they are fine, why should we swab?”
On Sunday, Indonesia evacuated 238 students from Hubei province, where the novel coronavirus is thought to have originated amid a lockdown by Chinese authorities.
All 238 students and five officials from the Indonesian embassy in China who assisted the students’ return, were subsequently quarantined at a military facility in the remote Indonesian island of Natuna for the next two weeks.
COST IS AN ISSUE: HEALTH MINISTRY
Dr Waworuntu said that it would be costly to test all those currently under quarantine.
The reagent - a compound used in chemical analysis to detect coronavirus - involved for one test would cost a billion rupiah (US$73,035), she claimed. Each person is tested at least twice to ensure accuracy.
“But that doesn’t mean we won’t do it when we have to. We will.”
When asked if the current approach is in line with guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Waworuntu said Indonesia is complying with all guidelines and recommendations currently set by the international body.
The director said Indonesia will only tighten the current policy if it is mandated by the WHO.
“The guidelines set by the WHO is constantly updated. Perhaps tomorrow will be different,” she said. “But from the guidelines we have received so far, that is the standard.”
Dr Waworuntu said doctors are constantly monitoring the health of everyone being quarantined in Natuna.
To date, the virus has killed more than 550 people and infected over 28,000 people around the world.
The WHO has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency as the virus spread to at least 25 countries and regions.
But Indonesia, a country of 264 million people, appeared to be spared from the outbreak, even as neighbouring countries like Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia each has confirmed cases of novel coronavirus.
Indonesia has earlier tested 42 people for the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began last month. But all tests came back negative.
Some have questioned if Indonesia has the right tools to detect the virus.
"EVERYTHING IN LINE WITH WHO PROTOCOL"
Dr Waworuntu said Indonesia would continue to make preparations for a possible outbreak.
“Indonesia is doing everything in line with (WHO) protocol. We are making preparations and continue to increase our capacity,” she said.
Indonesia has readied 100 hospitals across the country to isolate and treat suspected novel coronavirus patients but Dr Waworuntu said the government plans to have more.
“We are checking the readiness of hospitals, outside of the 100 so each province has at least one,” she said. Indonesia has 34 provinces.
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The Health Ministry director said her office is also improving laboratories across the country so they are able to conduct test and diagnosis for the novel coronavirus.
Currently, all samples are being tested at the ministry’s biomedical research centre in Jakarta.
“We want laboratories outside of Jakarta to be able to conduct tests and diagnosis. So not only at our research centre, but labs in Jakarta, Surabaya, Manado, Papua, Makassar and Sumatra,” she said, adding that it would save time and minimise the chances of the samples being contaminated or damaged along the way.