Jakarta. Indonesia issued a travel warning to citizens planning to travel to China on Monday, but stopped short from issuing an outright ban despite urging from the public and lawmakers who have been demanding the government steps up measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus since its first outbreak in Wuhan.
"We don't see other countries issuing a travel ban, but we've issued a travel warning. We suggest that people install the SafeTravel app to receive the latest update [on the coronavirus outbreak]," the Foreign Affairs Ministry's spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, said in Jakarta on Monday.
The Chinese government has put 15 cities in Hubei – a province of more than 50 million people – on lockdown amid the influenza-like novel coronavirus outbreak. Hubei is one of 29 provinces affected by the virus.
The 2019 nCoV, or novel coronavirus, was first identified in Wuhan last month. The virus has caused 80 deaths in China and infected 2,794 people across 15 countries.
China has also beefed up security around its borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) advised the Chinese government to try to make sure no one infected by the virus is leaving China.
No Indonesians have been infected by the virus so far. There are 243 Indonesians living in some of the cities that have been put on lockdown – Wuhan, Xianing, Huangshi, Jingzhou, Xianyang, Enshi and Shiyan.
"Our embassy in Beijing has prepared a contingency plan to supply the Indonesian citizens with their daily needs," Teuku said.
He also said there is no information on how long the lockdown will go on, but the government is in close contact with the Chinese government and will be told if an evacuation is needed.
"Some countries have said they wanted to evacuate [their citizens from China], including France and Australia. However, we will rely on the Chinese government's recommendation on whether an evacuation is possible," the spokesman said.
According to Indonesian law, the government is responsible for securing passage for its citizens to a safe region in an emergency, but not obligated to send them home.
"If they want to return to Indonesia, it would be at their own expense," Teuku said.
He advised that everyone should reconsider their plans to visit China for the time being. The travel status for Hubei is red (not recommended), while for other cities it is yellow (cautious).
Health Ministry's Warning
Achmad Yurianto, the secretary director-general of disease prevention and control at the Health Ministry, said Indonesia is ready to handle the coronavirus outbreak if it comes to the country.
"The WHO has made an official statement saying the novel coronavirus is something to watch out for, but at the moment it is not a cause for a global emergency," Achmad, who is also a medical doctor, said.
"Within the coronavirus family, the fatality rate for the SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] virus is 60 percent. It's 40 percent for MERS [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome]. For the nCoV, it's less than 4 percent. Some patients have also been reported to have recovered completely from the virus," he said.
The infection displays similar symptoms to a common cold, so a blood test is needed to find out if someone has contracted the nCoV.
"Confirming the presence of the nCoV in your bloodstream requires at least two days of laboratory check. Just because someone has a fever or cold, it doesn't mean they are infected with the virus," he said.
The nCoV infection could lead to respiratory failure, according to Achmad.
The doctor advised Indonesian citizens living in China to maintain their general health to avoid getting infected, by taking enough nutrition, getting enough rest and avoid contact with infected persons.
"The virus enters from the nose and mouth. Wear a face mask to protect yourself from infected people when they sneeze, cough or spit. Always wash your hands with soap before touching anything. We've told our students in China to do all the same thing," Achmad said.
Precaution for Arriving Travelers
Achmad said the WHO has ordered airports around the world to increase supervision of Chinese travelers going through their system.
"Our early warning system is able to detect if someone arrives at the airport with a body temperature above 38 Celcius degrees, which might indicate they have been infected with the coronavirus," the doctor said.
"Airports will apply their standard operating procedures and we're also cooperating with airlines. All visitors from China will be handed a report card. If in 14 days they show flu-like symptoms such as a fever, they could bring the card to a hospital and they will receive special treatment," Achmad said.
He said airlines have also been told to disinfect their plane cabin once they've dropped off the passengers.
Protection for Indonesians Abroad
Indonesia, which receives an average of 166,000 visitors from China every month, has so far been spared from the novel coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan.
Neighboring Malaysia, Singapore and Australia meanwhile have reported a total of 12 confirmed cases by Monday.
The Transportation Ministry has banned airlines from flying to and from Wuhan and is considering a wider ban on all flights from China.
All international airports in the country have set up thermal scanners in the arrivals terminal to single out people with high body temperature to be examined further.
Chinese scientists have announced the virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days and can spread from human to human before the carrier shows any symptom, fueling fears of an exponential contagion.
"We should also consider banning flights to and from all regions in China," Bambang Soesatyo, the chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly, said in a statement on Monday.
"Seeing that the virus has spread over a very massive area and there is still no vaccine for it, the Foreign Affairs Ministry should issue a travel warning such as those issued by the UK and the US," he said.
Teuku Harsya, a Democratic Party lawmaker from Aceh, a province that has 15 students trapped in Wuhan, urged the Foreign Affairs Ministry to ensure their safety. "I hope the government gives maximum protection to all Indonesians there," Teuku said.
The Indonesian Ambassador to China, Djauhari Oratmangun, told Antara in Beijing the embassy has been in close contact with Indonesians in Wuhan, and will make sure their basic needs are met for as long as the lockdown continues. "We are not leaving them alone," he said.