Tara Marchelin, Markus Junianto Sihaloho, Jakarta – All 238 Indonesian citizens who had just returned from the Chinese province of Hubei, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, are in good condition but will continue to be quarantined at a military base on Natuna Island for at least two weeks, Health Ministry officials said on Monday.
The Indonesians were evacuated from Wuhan and several other cities in Hubei on a chartered commercial plane on Sunday.
Soon after landing on Batam Island, they were transferred by military planes to the quarantine on Natuna, one of the islands in the Riau Islands archipelago.
"They're all healthy. They've been eating their meals and exercising together. You can see there's nothing wrong with them. Hopefully, they also feel at home [at the quarantine]," Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said in a hearing with lawmakers in Jakarta on Monday.
"They will be observed for 14 days before they can return to their families. They've only been there two days, but as far as I know they feel comfortable. I will visit them again tomorrow," Terawan, who was in Batam to welcome the arrivals, said.
Terawan said he had met with everyone at the quarantine and stayed overnight in Natuna, an island near the country's northern maritime borders.
"I got on the plane, checked the passengers one by one and accompanied them to the treatment facility," he said.
According to the minister, no one should worry about contracting the coronavirus from the citizens who had been quarantined because all of them had also passed rigorous medical checkups by Chinese authorities.
"The three [Indonesians] who failed to pass their medical checkup in China were not allowed to leave. Sick persons aren't allowed to leave [China] even if their illness was not related [to the coronavirus]. Even if you just have problems with your eyes, you won't be able to leave Wuhan," Terawan said.
Beritasatu TV showed a video of dozens of the evacuees jumping for joy next to a military plane on Natuna Island, apparently to show they were in tip-top shape.
Praises for China
The minister said the Chinese government's response to the coronavirus outbreak has been well thought out, including the strictly enforced lockdown on Wuhan – where the virus is thought to have originated – and the blanket ban on traveling abroad for all its citizens.
He said it was not necessary for Indonesia to close its borders to Chinese visitors. "We don't need to place a ban because according to the WHO [World Health Organization], China will isolate themselves," Terawan said.
The Chinese government has been notifying other countries when its citizens travel there without undergoing medical checkups at home, according to the minister.
Terawan was recently in Manado to follow up on a Chinese government tip-off that seven Chinese citizens had entered the South Sulawesi capital without undergoing health checks at home.
"They [the Chinese government] notified us and the tourists were kept inside their plane to get their health checked. Only after that did we allow them to travel under surveillance," Terawan said.
The Health Ministry has installed thermal scanners at 135 entry points in the country and set up preventive medical equipment in 19 regions with direct access to China, he said.
In addition, 82 hospitals across the country are said to be ready to handle coronavirus patients.
Anung Sugihantono, the Health Ministry's disease control and prevention director-general, said the returning Indonesian citizens are at the moment forbidden from leaving the quarantine area and only allowed to make contact with their families by phone.
They are currently being kept in 10 medical tents and seven hospital rooms. "The evacuees get a medical examination twice a day, including a check on their body temperature," Anung said in Jakarta.
Anung said if they don't show any sign of respiratory illnesses within 14 days and laboratory results show no signs of infection, they would be allowed to leave.
Their observation will be extended even if only one or two of the evacuees show symptoms of coronavirus infection.
"We also have a medical evacuation plan in place, even though we do have a hospital ready in Natuna. We will evacuate them to Jakarta if they need more specific treatment," Anung said.
Anung said the three Indonesians who failed to pass the Chinese government's obligatory medical check are being monitored by the Indonesian Consulate in China. The Chinese authorities say they will get all the medical treatment they need while in China.
"We don't have any evacuation plan for those three yet because they're still unwell. They have to obtain medical clearance from the Chinese authority first. We don't know how long that could take. It could be 14 days or less, or more," Anung said.
According to the WHO Situation Report, there have been 14,557 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus by Feb. 2, of which 2,604 were new cases. A total of 14,411 of the confirmed cases happened in China.