JAKARTA: All steps have been taken to ensure that there will be no coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia, said Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto, amid heightened concern that the virus will spread to the country.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (Jan 28), Dr Putranto said his ministry is readying 100 hospitals across the country should the virus spread to Indonesia. The hospitals, he said, have dedicated wings to isolate patients.
“If there is an escalation, we will make sure we are equipped to handle it. A hundred hospitals are more than enough at this stage. Everyone is ready. We have checked their readiness,” the minister said.
There has been no confirmed case of coronavirus infection in Indonesia.
Mr Putranto said those who felt ill have been examined and healthcare workers will continue to monitor them. He said some have also been quarantined.
"All (steps) have been taken to make sure that there is no outbreak (in Indonesia),” he stated.
“I believe that if we pray together we shall be spared by the outbreak.”
At least 170 people have been killed in the outbreak, while the total number of confirmed cases in China stands at more than 7,700.
None of the deaths has been outside China and nearly all were in Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month, probably from illegally traded wildlife.
The virus has already spread to more than 15 countries, including Singapore with seven confirmed cases. There is heightened concern that the virus might spread to Indonesia.
Dismissing what some have characterised as complacency in terms of pandemic preparedness, Dr Putranto said health workers have been deployed to international airports, seaports and land borders to monitor people’s health.
He also called on other countries to screen their travellers before they depart.
“No country will allow its citizens (to travel) from the impacted areas without checking first. Everyone understands their responsibility.”
He noted that China is issuing medical clearance for its citizens travelling abroad.
"(However), the other day there were seven in Manado (North Sulawesi province) who had not been cleared to fly by China. We temporarily isolated them, our doctors checked them, they were cleared (to enter Indonesia),” he said.
The minister also appeared to downplay the seriousness of the viral strain, saying that patients are known to heal on their own. He said that people needed to stay fit to stop themselves from getting infected.
“People can heal on their own. That is why the most important thing is to keep our body’s immune system high,” he said, adding that the last thing the government wants is to create panic.
“If our immune system is disturbed because of stress and so on, our immune system will drop,” the minister said. “I think our guidelines on maintaining a healthy lifestyle is enough. You can read (the guidelines) at (the ministry’s) website, download and share it”.
CONCERN ON SOCIAL MEDIA OVER STATE OF PREPAREDNESS
Last week, a Chinese national working for Huawei’s office in Jakarta had to be rushed to a hospital, sparking fears of community transmission.
Offices at the two towers immediately told their employees to wear masks and keep away from the floors that Huawei is occupying.
Several hours later, the authorities said the man had merely suffered a throat infection.
But some were sceptical that the man had been thoroughly examined, given the short time before authorities dismissed suspicion that he may have contracted the virus.
Health officials said the man’s condition improved during his medical observation, an indication that he did not have the virus.
Indonesians have expressed concern on social media over what they perceive as inadequate preparations for an outbreak, as well as potentials flaws in the overall system.
One Indonesian man said he is sceptical of the government’s seriousness in detecting the presence of the virus.
A woman tweeted that it is possible that there are undetected cases due to flaws in the Indonesian system.
"I hope the virus really hasn't entered... although I am worried," added another Twitter user.
STILL ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: DOCTORS ASSOCIATION
Doctors say that there is still room for improvement in terms of the preparations.
Dr Adib Khumaidi, the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association said several measures put in place during the avian flu epidemic between 2003 and 2007 should be resurrected.
He noted that coronavirus has a long incubation period. When travellers enter Indonesia, they might not have fever at that point.
It is therefore important is to create a form for them, so that it will facilitate subsequent contact tracing if any, he said, pointing out that this had been put in place during the avian flu outbreak.
Dr Khumaidi said the government also needs to engage with doctors outside the 100 hospitals that have been identified to handle the potential outbreak.
“These 100 hospitals need to develop their networks and reach out to other hospitals and clinics,” he said.
“If a patient is sick, they will seek help from the nearest hospital. These hospitals don’t have a system for coronavirus. The government must establish this system and communicate with all hospitals so hospitals know where to send their patients.
“Doctors want to support the government’s effort. But they haven’t been well informed and don’t know what to do if they suspect a patient has contracted coronavirus.”
There have also been calls for the government to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, especially after the United States and Japan have done so despite the city is being locked down by Chinese authorities.
Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mdm Retno Marsudi said there are 243 Indonesians living in the 15 cities which are under lock down, 100 of which are in Wuhan. Almost all of them are students.
“We are in constant communication with them to make sure they are well and thank God they are well,” she said on Tuesday. “We are opening the possibility of an evacuation. But we have to communicate with Chinese authorities, because of the lock down status.”
Mdm Marsudi said Indonesia is communicating with other countries that had either successfully evacuated their citizens or considering whether to do so.
The minister said Indonesians in Wuhan are complaining about their food supplies running low with the lock down causing prices of goods to soar. Meanwhile, stores in Wuhan are running low on masks.
They have expressed a need for quality masks, she said, adding that the Indonesian Disaster Mitigation Agency has agreed to supply 10,000 N95 masks to Indonesians in Wuhan.
The foreign minister said her office is in talks with Chinese authorities to allow the distribution of food and masks.
“Wuhan is not normal, it is under lockdown. Therefore everything must be communicated with the Chinese authorities. And we are doing that,” she said.