Jakarta. Indonesia will ship 10,000 face masks to hundreds of its citizens in China on Wednesday to help protect them from the coronavirus outbreak.
The pneumonia-like virus, officially called the 2017 nCoV novel coronavirus, has spread rapidly with the number of people infected doubling every two days.
A total of 4,474 people are confirmed to have been infected by the virus, mostly in China, where it already claimed 107 lives according to data compiled by The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at the John Hopkins University. A total of 63 people had recovered completely from the infection.
China has put 15 cities in its Hubei province on lockdown – including Wuhan, the city where the virus was thought to have spread from – in an effort to contain the outbreak.
According to media reports, more than 56 million people are trapped in the cities on lockdown – including 243 Indonesians in Wuhan, Xianing, Huangshi, Jingzhou, Xianyang, Enshi and Shiyan.
They are now in desperate need of medical supplies, including face masks, with stock quickly running out.
The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said it would send N95 masks – a type of surgical mask that can filter 95 percent of particulate in the air – to Indonesians in the Chinese cities on lockdown.
"We have 10,000 masks ready to be shipped tomorrow," Prasinta Dewi, the deputy of logistics and equipment at the BNPB, said in a statement on Tuesday.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo a few days ago had already instructed the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing to distribute face masks to Indonesian citizens in China, but the embassy was not able to find enough of the now highly sought after item.
BNPB head Doni Monardo said the agency is under order from a 2007 law about disaster mitigation and a 2019 presidential regulation to take all the necessary steps during a pandemic.
"According to the law, the BNPB has to act during times of non-natural disasters, including a pandemic. There's no need to wait for [the government to declare] an emergency," Doni said.
No one in Indonesia has been infected by the coronavirus so far, even though several patients suspected of having contracted the virus have been admitted to hospitals in Bandung, Sorong and Manado to be put under observation.
Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto has called on the Indonesian public to be vigilant about a possible outbreak and to concentrate on keeping themselves healthy to stave off the virus in the meantime.
''Take care of your health, that's the best and cheapest prevention. Keep your immune system strong,'' Terawan said on Monday.
The minister said people should wash their hands with soap before eating, wear face masks, exercise and see a doctor immediately if they experience symptoms of flu, including fevers, respiratory problems or a sore throat.