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Jakarta Post

Diamond Princess repatriation may put Indonesia at risk of becoming 'new epicenter', govt says

  • Marchio Irfan Gorbiano and Budi Sutrisno

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, February 26, 2020   /   09:00 am
Diamond Princess repatriation may put Indonesia at risk of becoming 'new epicenter', govt says Indonesian Diamond Cruise ship crew members quarantined in Japan display messages expressing their hope to return home. (JP/Courtesy of Masfud)

The government is apparently in no rush to evacuate 69 Indonesian crew members from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan who are reported healthy, arguing they might cause “a new epicenter” after nine others on the cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19.

Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said the government would take one step at a time and prioritize citizens on the World Dream cruise ship who were “in a more threatening position” than those on the Diamond Princess.

According to World Dream operator Dream Cruises, the cruise ship is currently in international waters close to Bintan Island in Riau Islands.

“Those on World Dream were rejected everywhere. We, the government, must pay attention to those rejected. What will happen if they run out of logistics and so on? They are clearly in a more threatening position,” Terawan told journalists at the State Palace on Tuesday.

He added that Indonesian citizens aboard the British-American-owned Diamond Princess had been receiving proper care from the Japanese government and were being supplied sufficient logistics.

“Any suspect carrier will be taken to the hospital and receive treatment according to Japanese standards, which means good standards,” he said.

Read also: Number of Indonesians with coronavirus on Diamond Princess rises to nine

As of Tuesday, the Health Ministry confirmed nine Indonesian crew members on the Diamond Princess had tested positive for COVID-19. Five of them had been taken to hospitals for observation, while the remaining four were still on board the ship.

“Nine of them only have a fever. To me, they are being well cared for and not in bad condition.”

The minister claimed that the possibility that those deemed healthy could become was around 20 percent; meaning that 12 people were at risk of carrying the coronavirus into the archipelago if the government took at least 60 people home.

“That’s why we need special methods and negotiations with Japan to make an appropriate decision. If we rush the process, we could emulate what happened in the United States, Korea and Australia, creating a new epicenter,” he added.

Read also: 13 US citizens at 'high risk' of coronavirus being treated in Nebraska

Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said the government was still negotiating with the Japanese government regarding the evacuations. He went on to say that several pickup options had been submitted to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

“The President should weigh and consider this with great care, not carelessly and not gratuitously because the fate of 264 million Indonesians depends on it,” Muhadjir said.

The government was not able to evacuate people from the cruise ships as it did in Wuhan– the epicenter of COVID-19 –because, Muhadjir argued, the Wuhan evacuations had a different set of conditions with a lack of infected Indonesian citizens.

“Everyone was still clean. [...] Meanwhile, nine [tested positive for COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess]. That’s why we consider the Diamond Princess an epicenter, while Dream World has not reached that level yet,” he said.

Japanese authorities quarantined Diamond Princess and its 3,711 passengers and crew for two weeks from Feb. 5. By the time the quarantine was over 14 days later, 634 of those aboard had  tested positive for COVID-19.

The crew members have expressed their hope that the government will airlift them from the Diamond Princess for fear of getting infected, saying that the evacuation of their coworkers from the United States, Canada, South Korea and several European countries was to take place soon.

Editor’s note: The earlier version of the article mentioned the World Dream cruise ship is currently in Hong Kong. We have corrected the ship’s current position. We apologize for the mistake.