After repatriating 238 citizens from Wuhan and other cities in China, the Indonesian government declared on Sunday that it would ban all travel to and from China to prevent the spread of a deadly and highly contagious novel coronavirus.
The ban, which took effect at 12 a.m. on Monday, prevents visitors who have stayed in China for 14 days or more from visiting or transiting in Indonesia. The government will suspend visa-free and visa on arrival provisions for Chinese citizens.
“The government asks Indonesians not to take trips to mainland China for now,” said Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, after a Cabinet meeting held by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Force Base in Jakarta on Sunday afternoon.
Indonesia has followed the United States, the Philippines and Singapore in imposing travel restrictions to and from China amid rapid contagion of the virus worldwide.
AFP reported that, as of Sunday, the coronavirus had killed 304 in China and had infected nearly 14,500 globally, surpassing infections caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the result of another strain of coronavirus originated in China, in 2003.
Often called the first pandemic of the 21st century, the SARS outbreak resulted in 8,100 cases worldwide and killed at least 775 people.
While the Philippines reported the first death outside of China due to the recent coronavirus on Sunday, Indonesia has not yet confirmed any cases.
Indonesia's travel ban was announced hours after 238 Indonesian nationals evacuated from Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province landed on Natuna Island and were placed in quarantine at Raden Sadjad airbase.
“They will undergo observation [in quarantine] for 14 days. This observation period will also be implemented on the 42 airlifting personnel from Wuhan, so 285 people will undergo this observation. They are still healthy so far,” Retno said.
Spread of the new coronavirus (AFP/-)
The evacuees disembarked from the Batik Air Airbus A-330 airplane at 9:23 a.m. at Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam, Riau Islands.
They disembarked one by one, with long intervals between each passenger. Officers wearing hazmat suits examined the passengers and escorted them to the planes that later transported them to Natuna.
The Indonesian Military (TNI) used three planes to carry the returnees from Batam to Natuna: a Hercules A-1315, a Boeing AI-7304 and a Boeing A-7306.
The passengers underwent medical examinations inside the Batik Air aircraft before boarding the planes that brought them to Natuna Island.
Batam Class I Port Health Office head Achmad Farchanny previously said that several health assessments, such as temperature checks, would be made.The quarantine facility will be guarded by 117 Mobile Brigade (Brimob) officers sent on a Wings Air plane to Natuna, Riau Islands, according to Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Harry Goldenhardt.
“We sent our officers for preemptive security as there has been a protest from the locals [about the quarantine on Natuna],” Harry told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
On Saturday, residents protested in front of the Ranai subdistrict Military Command (Koramil) in Natuna regency in opposition to the decision to make Natuna Island the site of the quarantine.
Natuna Deputy Regent Ngesti Yuni Suprapti said the central government had not consulted the administration.
Of the 245 Indonesians planned to be evacuated from Hubei, only 238 arrived in Indonesia. Four people were unwilling to leave China, while three people were sick at the time of departure and were not given clearance by the Chinese government to leave the country.
Following standard health protocol, the passengers underwent multilayered medical examinations conducted by both Chinese authorities and an Indonesian medical team at Wuhan's Tianhe International Airport.
“It’s their right for those that refused. For those that did not pass, that’s the rule; the sick cannot [leave China],” Health Ministry spokeswoman Widyawati told the Post on Sunday.
In quarantine, she said, the evacuees would be treated as healthy people and would be told to continue their activities, albeit at the facility.
“They are actually healthy residents so we treat them as healthy people, not as sick people. We will also make them as comfortable as we can,” Widyawati said.
She said that the evacuees would be treated, provided with healthy food and allowed to exercise for two weeks while their health was observed to determine if they were free from the coronavirus, which has an incubation period of up to two weeks.
“They cannot be visited yet, but they can communicate using their gadgets,” Widyawati said.
Viral fears: Natuna residents protest in front of Raden Sadjad Air Force Base in Ranai, Natuna, Riau Islands, on Saturday. They opposed the arrival of Indonesian citizens repatriated from Wuhan, China, in the regency, where the evacuees will be observed to ensure they are free from the new coronavirus. (Antara/Cherman)
Other national governments have instated quarantines for those returning from China amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The US government evacuated 195 Americans from Wuhan and has quarantined them at the March Air Reserve Base in California for 14 days.
Singapore has evacuated 92 citizens from Wuhan. All Singaporeans coming from China have been put on quarantine order at home or at three university hostels in China designated as quarantine facilities.
Australia plans to evacuate at least 150 of its residents from Wuhan on Monday to be quarantined on Christmas Island, Australian territory.
The Foreign Ministry said the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing would take care of the four Indonesians who chose to stay in China with their family and the three others who were unable to depart because they did not pass the health screening.
The Indonesian Embassy said it would be in constant communication with the remaining Indonesians and would coordinate with authorities in China to ensure those staying behind would still be able to access supplies.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the Indonesians who remained would be taken care of by the authorities.
"The government will fully protect them," he said.
— Marchio Irfan Gorbiano contributed to this report.