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Jakarta Post

Coronavirus outbreak: Indonesians in locked-down Wuhan want to come home

  • Ardila Syakriah
    Ardila Syakriah

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, January 26, 2020   /   07:43 am
Coronavirus outbreak: Indonesians in locked-down Wuhan want to come home Travelers are checked by health personnel at the entrance to an underground train station in Beijing on Jan. 24. Security and health officers are working to prevent the spread of a deadly SARS-like virus that originated in Wuhan. China has sealed off millions living near the epicenter of the outbreak. (AFP/Noel Celis)

Indonesian nationals trapped in the locked-down city of Wuhan, China, where the deadly coronavirus first emerged, have expressed hope that they will be allowed to leave the country amid the outbreak.

Fitriani, a 25-year-old master's student at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, said she hoped she could be evacuated to a safer region or return to Indonesia before the outbreak worsens.

"I didn't plan on returning to Indonesia during this winter break. However, I started to think of going home when the virus reportedly infected 198 people by Jan. 21, but the city has been locked down since Jan. 23," Fitriani told The Jakarta Post via text message on Saturday.

Fitriani is among the 93 Indonesian citizens, a majority of them students, trapped in Wuhan since the Chinese government shut down travel out of the epicenter of the viral outbreak on Thursday, according to the chairman of the Wuhan branch of the Indonesian Student Association in China (PPIT Wuhan), Nur Musyafak.

The Chinese government has halted all travel from and toward Wuhan, shut down its public transportation and told residents to stay home, AFP reported, adding that 17 other smaller cities in Hubei province prepared various measures ranging from closing public venues and restricting large gatherings to halting public transportation and asking citizens not to leave their cities.

There were around 200 Indonesian nationals in Wuhan, Nur of PPIT Wuhan said, adding that many of them had returned to Indonesia for the Lunar New Year holiday, which usually lasted until mid-February. 

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi offered a different number, however, citing embassy records that say there were 428 Indonesian students in Wuhan, 1,280 in Beijing and 849 in Shanghai, while adding that, as of December, 90 percent of the Indonesian students in Wuhan and its surroundings had returned to Indonesia for Chinese New Year.

Fitriani, who lives at her university's dormitory with five other Indonesian students, said she would not leave her dorm unless necessary. Her dorm set up thermal scanners to monitor students' body temperatures on Jan. 22, she added.

The last time she went out was to buy groceries at a nearby traditional market that was now temporarily closed as some sellers feared the coronavirus. She said she had stocked up on food for the next week, as suggested by Chinese authorities.

"The prices of vegetables and fruits have gone up, from 5 Chinese renminbi per 500 grams to 30 renminbi per 500 grams. I had no other choice but to buy them as I need them," Fitriani said.

Fitriani, who has been in Wuhan since September, talked about how unusually quiet the streets had been as she only spotted a few private vehicles and people wearing facial masks.

Another China University of Geosciences student in Wuhan, Rio Alfi, 35, said he initially had plans to return home to Pekanbaru, Riau, along with his wife and son before the lockdown was announced.

He said that although he had stored groceries for the coming week, he could not help but worry as prices of commodities had gone up while food stocks being sold had declined, leading people to scramble to get the commodities at a supermarket he had gone to.

"We're waiting for what's next because it's been three days since the lockdown. Psychologically speaking, it's pretty tough for us here in Wuhan. The student association and the Indonesian Embassy have coordinated and are monitoring the situation. However, there's been no decision yet as to whether we'll be evacuated out of Wuhan or receive assistance over supplies," he told the Post via text message on Saturday.

Rio, who has been studying in Wuhan since 2016, said that this year's Lunar New Year was different as fewer people were praying for their ancestors at cemeteries.

AFP reported that the Chinese army had deployed medical specialists to Wuhan on Saturday as hospitals bustled with patients, adding that authorities began building a new field hospital in Wuhan to deal with the outbreak. 

The coronavirus, which bears similarities to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), killed 54 people as of Sunday morning in China and spread around the world, including Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, as confirmed infections surged to 1,652 people, Channel News Asia reported.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry's director for citizen protection told the Post on Friday that as Wuhan was under quarantine, the ministry through the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing was coordinating with local authorities to provide assistance needed by Indonesian nationals in the city.

Indonesian Ambassador to China Djauhari Oratmangun said the embassy was in close contact with Indonesian citizens through Chinese messaging app WeChat.

"We're constantly in contact with them. There is a coordinator appointed in each campus' dormitory. So far, from the information that we've received, their food stock still suffices," he told the Post on Saturday.

He said the embassy had bought plane tickets for Indonesian students in Wuhan who had been traveling outside of the city prior to the lockdown so that they could return to Indonesia.

Following the lockdown, Indonesia announced a temporary suspension of all flights operated by Indonesian airlines to and from Wuhan. Authorities had activated thermal scanners at entrance points in Indonesia to detect any symptoms of the virus, such as fever.