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Jakarta Post

Indonesian students treated as pariahs upon return from China

  • Yulia Savitri

    The Jakarta Post

Palembang   /   Tue, February 4, 2020   /   07:46 pm
Indonesian students treated as pariahs upon return from China Indonesian health officials conduct an exercise in transporting a patient requiring isolation at the Belawan Port in Medan on Feb. 3. (AFP/Ivan Damanik )

Indonesian university students who returned from China amid the coronavirus outbreak thought they could rest easy once they arrived in South Sumatra on Saturday.

However, the students, instead of receiving a warm welcome at home, were met with suspicion and outright paranoia among locals, some of whom were not convinced that they were completely free of the deadly virus.

Adam Amrismafasyah, a 19-year-old Jiangsu Normal University student from Muaraenim regency, said the locals had been treating him differently ever since he returned from China.

“Some of my neighbors have steered clear of me, others asked me upfront whether I had been thoroughly examined and whether I was completely free of the coronavirus,” Adam told The Jakarta Post in a phone interview on Tuesday.

He said the situation grew even more uncomfortable after health officials paid him a visit at his home. The officials were just doing their job, as they were ordered to examine Adam on a daily basis to determine whether he was exhibiting any symptoms of the coronavirus. However, such visits quickly became a nuisance because they attracted a crowd, Adam said.

“[The neighbors] peeked inside the house because they’re curious. It made me uncomfortable,” he said.

Adam said he had noticed people reacting negatively to him and his colleagues as they were having lunch at a local restaurant. He said some of the patrons left the restaurant shortly after they arrived.

He said such an attitude was frustrating, especially considering the fact that his university was located in Xuzhou, Jiangsou province – approximately 676 kilometers from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province. Furthermore, he also explained that he had been declared free of the virus after a thermal scan prior to his arrival in his hometown.

Despite his frustration, however, Adam said he fully understood why the locals would scrutinize him as there were fears of the coronavirus spreading to Indonesia. He said he had complied with established safety procedures to alleviate public concerns by wearing a mask, which he must do for 14 days, and limiting outdoor activities.

“I think I’d do the same thing if I was in their position,” he said, adding that he would still have to wait and see whether his university in Jiangsou would be open once his semester break ends in March.

Another student, Annisa Sekar Ayu Utami, 18, a student of Changchun University in Jilin city, Jilin province, got the same treatment. She said as quoted by kompas.com that when her friends learned about her return to Palembang, South Sumatra, they posted negative comments on her social media account.

"When I attended a family gathering in Palembang, they stayed away from me," said Annisa.

The South Sumatra Health Agency’s head of surveillance, Yusri, said nine students who returned from China were immediately examined upon arrival on Saturday. They were then instructed to report their health on a daily basis throughout the 14-day incubation period, he said.

“There were nine students returning from China who switched flights in Singapore. Two of them are from Muaraenim, two from Prabumulih, four from Palembang and one from Ogan Komering Ilir regency. We have made sure that none of them are from Wuhan,” Yusri said. (rfa)