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Jakarta Post

'Severe red zone': East Java scrambles to contain COVID-19 spread at Islamic boarding school

  • Asip Hasani

    The Jakarta Post

Surabaya   /   Fri, April 24, 2020   /   04:24 pm
'Severe red zone': East Java scrambles to contain COVID-19 spread at Islamic boarding school A number of santri (students of an Islamic boarding school) line up to wash their hands before entering KMP Dharma Bahari Sumekar III at Jangkar Port in Situbondo, East Java, on April 4. The Sumenep regency administration is helping 566 santri return to their hometowns to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Antara/Seno)

More people tested positive during COVID-19 rapid testing conducted at a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in Temboro village, Magetan regency, East Java, which the provincial task force has declared a red zone.

Authorities declared the village a red zone after 43 santri (students of an Islamic boarding school) tested positive for COVID-19 in Malaysia. They also put the village under quarantine, restricting people from entering and leaving the village.

“I had to wear full personal protective equipment upon briefing the santri and other residents in the pesantren, because I know the area is a severe red zone with high virus transmission,” said Kohar Hari Santoso, an official from the East Java COVID-19 task force.

On Wednesday evening, officials from Magetan and the East Java COVID-19 task force were informed that 31 of 312 santri at Al Fatah pesantren in Temboro had tested positive for the disease following the rapid testing.

Read also: East Java boarding school undergoes rapid COVID-19 testing after Malaysia reports imported cases

Kohar said his team had taken swab samples from students that were found to have contracted the disease during the rapid testing. The samples would be tested using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method to get a more reliable result.

Although faster and more affordable compared to the PCR, the rapid testing is deemed less accurate in detecting COVID-19 as it only detects antibodies against the coronavirus in blood samples.

He went on to say that authorities would need several days to complete surveillance and contact tracing, as the team had to examine many more students.

The surveillance would focus on students living in the same housing complex where the 43 Malaysian students lived. The complex, located within the pesantren, was occupied mostly by foreign students.

Al Fatah, located about 11 kilometers north of the center of Magetan, has more than 22,000 students; 2,000 of which are foreigners, mostly from Southeast Asian countries.

The boarding school is also known as the base for an Islamic group known as Jamaah Tabligh, which has held events in Malaysia, India and South Sulawesi that have been linked to several COVID-19 cases in the respective regions. It is unclear whether any Al Fatah santri attended those events.

Kohar said authorities expected more students to test positive as examination and contact tracing was still under way.

Read also: In shadow of coronavirus, Muslims face a Ramadan like never before

Magetan Regent Suprawoto told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that the Malaysian government had urged the remaining Malaysian students to return home, although they initially wanted to stay and spend Ramadan in the village.

Officials from the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta were preparing the necessary documents so the students could return to their home country as soon as possible, he went on to say.

“However, we want those who tested positive during the rapid testing to stay and undergo treatment here in Magetan, while waiting for their PCR test result,” said Suprawoto.

East Java has recorded 664 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, with 60 fatalities and 112 recoveries. Fourteen of the confirmed cases were found in Magetan. (kuk)