Medical workers check body temperature of residents in Rungkut, Surabaya, the capital of East Java, on Saturday. A cigarette factory in the area has been closed temporarily since April 27 after two workers died from coronavirus. (Antara Photo/Didik Suhartono)

Indonesia Quarantines Over 500 Philip Morris Factory Workers


MAY 03, 2020

Jakarta. Authorities in the Indonesian city of Surabaya have ordered more than 500 factory workers employed by tobacco giant Philip Morris to self-isolate after two of their colleagues died from coronavirus, as the country struggles to slow the spread of the infectious illness.

Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 11,192 on Sunday, a spike of 349 from the day before.


Two workers at HM Sampoerna cigarette factory, a local brand fully owned by Phillip Morris International, tested positive for coronavirus on April 13 and they eventually succumbed to the disease.

The city government summoned the factory management on April 16 to collect data of all employees for contact tracing and ask them to furlough workers, but it was not until 11 days later when the factory was ordered to close temporarily.

The city also ordered 506 factory workers to self-isolate at home and carried out rapid testing, in which 123 people were diagnosed with clinical symptoms of Covid-19. It was reported that the 123 workers were then placed under isolation at a hotel.

Indonesia's second largest city began to formally impose the large-scale social restrictions on April 29, under which non-essential businesses must suspend operations.

East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa has criticized the city government for being too slow in responding to the incident, but the city immediately denied the allegation.

“That’s not true. In fact, it was the Surabaya Covid-19 Task Force who first identified positive cases at the cigarette factory,” city task force spokesman Muhammad Fikser said on Sunday.

“We immediately handled the situation and launched contact tracing. The incident at the cigarette factory became public knowledge only after we conducted the Covid-19 testing,” he added. 

Fikser said the two employees first took treatment at the factory clinic on April 2 but as their conditions worsened, they were admitted to a hospital a week later. They finally underwent swab tests at another hospital on April 13 and the results came back positive of coronavirus. They died on April 18.

HM Sampoerna Director Elvira Lianita said the company strictly follows health protocols from the government and the World Health Organization during the pandemic.

“Since early this year and the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been intensifying measures to meet health protocols at all our factories, warehouses and chains of distribution," she was quoted by local news outlets as saying.

The factory in Rungkut, Surabaya was temporarily shut on April 27 and sterilized with disinfectants, she added.

Elvira said the company is working closely with city and provincial governments to handle the incident, including by providing all necessary data for contact tracing and Covid-19 screenings.

All factory workers are required to wear masks during works and five-day product quarantine applies before distributions to follow the WHO protocol, she said.