Rebecca Ratcliffe – There is growing concern that the new coronavirus may be going undetected in Indonesia, where officials have not confirmed a single case of infection in the country of 272 million people which has close links to China.
As of Thursday, Indonesia said it had no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and that 238 people evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, had not shown symptoms or been tested.
More than 630 people have been killed by the virus in China, while confirmed infections have passed 30,000 globally. Most cases are concentrated in China, though the virus has been recorded in countries across Asia, as well as Europe, Australia and the US.
A study by academics from Harvard university analysed the number of passengers taking flights from Wuhan to destinations around the world, and found that the number of cases identified in both Indonesia and Cambodia appeared below what might be expected.
The study, published quickly to improve scientists' understanding of the outbreak, has not been peer reviewed, but adds to mounting fears that cases are not being identified.
It also suggested that cases recorded in Thailand, where 25 cases have been identified so far, were also below the number scientists might expect to see. Cambodia has so far confirmed one case of coronavirus.
Professor Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland, said that if cases were not being spotted, then there was a risk of further infection and new outbreaks emerging. "You'd be thinking close contacts – family, close friends maybe business meetings – could be then infected by these cases and this could set up a little hotspot of infection."
Scientists do not believe the disease is airborne, he said. "So it's not really simple to pick up – you do have to have some face-to-face time with someone in order to pass that virus on."
Hopefully, Mackay added, people will report to a doctor if they are sick, and they will then be quarantined accordingly once their travel history is observed.
Reports have questioned the ability of Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, to test for the virus, though the Indonesian health ministry said on Wednesday that it has all the necessary resources.
Indonesia, which receives significant Chinese investment, relies heavily on Chinese tourism. The country's Chinese-Indonesians are estimated to make up around 3% of the population.
There is also concern over the thousands of Chinese tourists, including 200 people from Wuhan, who are reportedly stranded in Bali after direct flights to mainland China were banned by Indonesia. None of the tourists were showing symptoms, according to officials, but they are not in quarantine.
Citizens evacuated evacuated from Wuhan, however, remain under observation at a military base on the remote Natuna island, where residents have protested against their presence.