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Jakarta Post

Coronavirus outbreak: Indonesian lawmakers demand repatriation of at-risk citizens

  • Karina M. Tehusijarana and Apriza Pinandita

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, January 29, 2020   /   09:08 am
Coronavirus outbreak: Indonesian lawmakers demand repatriation of at-risk citizens A woman wearing a protective mask is seen in a small shop in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Jan. 27. (AFP/ Hector Retamal)

As new coronavirus cases are popping up as far away as Sri Lanka and Germany, lawmakers are calling on the government to quickly repatriate Indonesian citizens from Wuhan, China - the epicenter of the outbreak - and the surrounding Hubei province.

"The Indonesian government has to take quick and appropriate measures to ensure the evacuation of Indonesian citizens who are currently in Wuhan," Golkar Party lawmaker Christina Aryani told The Jakarta Post in a statement on Tuesday.

"Leaving our citizens there is just the same as letting them wait their turn to get infected."

According to the Foreign Ministry, 243 Indonesians are currently in Hubei, with 100 of them are in Wuhan. Chinese authorities have quarantined the province and banned travel into and out of the region. Several Indonesian students there have already expressed their desire to return home.

Christina, a member of the House of Representatives' Commission I, which oversees foreign affairs, cited a number of other countries that had already made plans to relocate their citizens, such as the United States, Japan, and France.

"Unlike the US that is chartering an airplane to bring its citizens home, France will move its citizens to another province to be quarantined," she said. "Indonesia can follow France's move."

Christina's call joins those of National Awakening Party (PKB) politician Syaiful Huda and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) executive Hidayat Nur Wahid.

Syaiful, a member of the House's Commission X, which oversees education, said he hoped the government would take "concrete steps" to rescue the students from the region.

"The government should study the different options, given the real and deadly threat posed by the virus," Syaiful said.

Hidayat echoed Syaiful and Christina's comments, saying the government had a duty to protect all of its citizens.

"Given the requests of the Indonesian citizens [in Wuhan], as well as the state's responsibility to protect all Indonesian citizens, it is only right that the Indonesian government immediately relocate all Indonesian citizens [from areas affected by the virus in China], including students in Wuhan," Hidayat said in a statement on Monday. "Especially since the virus spreads so quickly."

According to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), there were 4,474 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as of Tuesday evening, resulting in 107 deaths.

However, despite the spread of the virus and calls from lawmakers, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said that the Indonesian citizens currently residing in Hubei province did not need to be relocated just yet.

"The government has prepared for evacuation if it is really needed. For now the evacuation scheme has not been carried out yet as it is not yet considered necessary," Muhadjir said after a joint meeting on the coronavirus at his office on Tuesday.

Muhadjir's statement comes as other countries are preparing to transport their citizens from Wuhan, which is currently under lockdown.

AFP reported on Tuesday that Japanese officials confirmed they are beginning to repatriate Japanese nationals from the city, while the US State Department has said a chartered flight would leave Wuhan on Wednesday with 240 American citizens on board, including consular staff.

Australia, Sri Lanka, South Korea, India and France have all made preparations to evacuate their citizens from the area in the coming days.

Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said that rescue of the Indonesians remained an "open option", but that it would not be easy because the area was under strict lockdown.

"We have to speak to the Chinese authorities because there are a lot of regulations," she said after the meeting.

She added, however, that the ministry had already made preparations for a possible evacuation, including the route they would take and the quarantine procedures both before departure and after arrival in Indonesia.

She also said that the ministry was making arrangements to send food and other supplies to the quarantined Indonesians as many stores in Hubei have closed because of the outbreak.

Retno also confirmed that as of Tuesday no Indonesians in the region were suspected to have contracted the virus.

"It's normal for [the Indonesians] to be anxious, so we are regularly communicating with them and ensuring that their daily needs are met," she said.

The Foreign Ministry has officially issued a travel warning for citizens intending to visit Hubei province.

"A travel warning has been imposed for Hubei province, including its capital Wuhan," Foreign Ministry acting spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah said.

The warning would only be revoked once the Chinese government announces that the region is safe, he added.

In addition to issuing a travel warning, the Indonesian government also issued a travel advisory for those planning to visit other regions in China.