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Jakarta Post

Papua restricts entry as concerns mount over lack of facilities to treat COVID-19

  • Benny Mawel and┬áVictor┬áMambor

    The Jakarta Post

Jayapura, Papua   /   Wed, March 25, 2020   /   03:58 pm
Papua restricts entry as concerns mount over lack of facilities to treat COVID-19 Sentani Airport in Jayapura, Papua, on Sept. 18, 2018. (Shutterstock/Widhibek)

Papua is set to restrict entry into the province both through sea and air travel in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia’s easternmost region.

Papua Governor Lukas Enembe, together with members of the Regional Leadership Communication Forum, announced the measure shortly after the province’s first two COVID-19 positive cases were revealed on Sunday.

"This is not a lockdown; only a restriction. However, we are considering whether it is necessary to completely block [access to] Papua to protect Lapago, Meepago and Animha because they are particularly vulnerable,” Lukas said during a meeting in Jayapura on Monday.

The three areas are Papua’s indigenous territories. Lapago and Meepago have nine regencies and five regencies, respectively, both located in the Central Highlands of Papua, while Animha, located in South Papua, has four regencies. 

The travel restrictions exclude the transportation of goods into the province, Lukas said, asserting that the distribution of various supplies would continue as usual.

“The policy takes effect on Thursday and will be in place for the next 14 days," he said, adding that the provincial administration would evaluate the policy at the end of the two-week period.

Read also: Explainer: Will Indonesia be Southeast Asia’s Italy? A review of how the nation is battling COVID-19

Papuan People's Assembly chairman Timotius Murib emphasized that restricting access to Papua was needed to prevent a surge of COVID-19 cases.

“We appreciate this decision. It is the right course of action to protect indigenous Papuans from the threat of death,” he told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Timotius hoped this was a positive sign that Papua could overcome the spread of the novel coronavirus and asked for the public’s participation to fight the disease.

“This does not mean that the people [in Papua] are free to move around. [They should] adhere to the government’s appeal not to gather and to stay at home,” he said.

Papua has limited daily community activities to eight hours, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Meanwhile, large gatherings, including religious worship, were restricted starting on Wednesday.

Separately, Papua COVID-19 response team spokesperson Silwanus Sumule conceded that the handling of COVID-19 in Papua was a cause for concern because the province lacked the necessary medical equipment, including rapid testing kits to examine swab samples from suspected patients.

Read also: Greater Jakarta failing as floodgate to nationwide COVID-19 epidemic

“We need seven to 10 hours to examine a sample. Indeed, we have received information that the Health Ministry will send us as many as 2,400 rapid testing kits. This is what we are expecting,” Sumule said.

He added that Papua had only 45 hospitals, 15 of which were referral hospitals for coronavirus cases. Combined, they have 202 isolation rooms and can accommodate up to 4,500 patients.

“If [COVID-19] affected 20 percent of Papua’s populations, that means 800,000 people would be infected. Of those, perhaps 160,000 would need to be treated in hospitals and 8,000 treated in isolation rooms,” he said.

In such a scenario, Papua would struggle to treat its own residents, let alone visitors from outside the province, he added.

Papua has recorded three confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, with at least 19 people under surveillance and 716 people under monitoring.

“Five among the 716 people are foreigners. Meanwhile, the 19 people under surveillance comprise six in Merauke, two in Biak, one in Mimika, nine in Jayapura city and one in Jayapura regency.” (syk)