The Jakarta Post
Given a clear bill of health, the 237 citizens and one American spouse of an Indonesian national from Wuhan and other cities in China were finally released on Saturday from a 14-day quarantine in Natuna, Riau Islands.
Forty-two members of the evacuation team and five Indonesian Embassy staffers from Beijing who assisted the operation were also released from quarantine on Saturday.
All 285 people have been declared healthy after testing negative for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The government evacuated 243 people — comprising 237 Indonesian nationals, a foreigner and five embassy staffers — on Feb. 2 from Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as other cities in Hubei province following the emergence of the novel coronavirus. The evacuees, the evacuation team and all support staff were airlifted to Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, and then immediately transported to Natuna Island for quarantining.
Joint Defense Area Command I (Kogabwilhan I) commander Rear Adm. Yudo Margono, who led the humanitarian mission, said all evacuees, as well as the evacuation team and embassy officials involved in the effort, had been released and were heading back to their hometowns.
“The Health Minister [Terawan Agus Putranto] will accompany the people flying to Jakarta, while I am staying here to meet with the local residents, as President [Joko Widodo] has ordered,” Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said in Natuna on Saturday.
Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto (second left) congratulates the crowd of people newly released from quarantine on Feb. 15, 2020 at Raden Sadjad Air Base in Natuna, Riau Islands. All evacuees, the evacuation team and support staff were declared free of coronavirus infection and departed the island on Saturday, where they had been quarantined since Feb. 2. (Antara/Muhammad Adimaja)
The evacuees boarded two Boeing planes and a Hercules aircraft operated by the Indonesian Air Force and were flown to Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base in Jakarta. The first flight took off from Natuna at 1:20 p.m., and the third and final flight departed at 2 p.m. All three flights had arrived in Jakarta by 3:46 p.m. on Saturday.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Doni Monardo said that the evacuees were each provided Rp 1 million (US$73.07) in travel allowance as well as plane tickets to their hometowns.
Many were welcomed home by local officials, including East Kalimantan Governor Isran Noor, who flew out to Jakarta to escort evacuees from the province on the last leg of their journey.
“The most important thing is that they can return home safely,” said Doni.
Health minister Terawan said the evacuees were also given a letter that declared they had tested negative for COVID-19. The health agencies in their place of origin would continue to monitor the evacuees after they had returned home.
“The surveillance is our responsibility. If they get sick after they have returned to their hometowns, we can [examine] them immediately to see if they are infected with the coronavirus,” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to Indonesia, Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, congratulated Indonesia on the evacuation as a “smart move" and for keeping the evacuees "safe for 14 days”.
Paranietharan also said that the evacuees could freely mingle in their communities once they got home. "They’re perfectly fine; there’s no need to worry about them,” he said during a ceremony marking the evacuees' release in Natuna.
A soldier of the Joint Defense Area Command I (Kogabwilhan I) pats a child on the head on Feb. 15, 2020 at Raden Sadjad Airbase in Natuna, Riau Islands. All evacuees from Wuhan, China, were given a clear bill of health and left the air base hangar where they had been quarantined since Feb. 2. (Antara/Muhammad Adimaja)
The government initially planned to evacuate 245 people from Hubei, but four people decided to remain in China. Three others were sick at the time of departure, and did not have clearance from the Chinese government to leave the country.
Terawan said the government was still awaiting information from the WHO regarding the global emergency before making furthers decisions on the Indonesian citizens who remained in China.
Most of the evacuees were Indonesian students who were studying at universities in Hubei province.
Coordinating minister Muhadjir said the government was mulling future options for the students who had been studying in China on a scholarship, such as resuming their studies after the outbreak had ended or transferring their academic credit to Indonesian universities.
“The most important thing is that these people returned to Indonesia first. As for their study programs, we will decide [the matter] later under my coordination,” he said.
Yudo said that the military personnel assigned to the operation would be dismissed and resume their regular duties on Monday, while the hangar used for the quarantine would return to its normal function.
“All equipment used during the [quarantine period] will be disinfected,” he stressed. (kuk/vla)