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Sympathy and lessons learnt from Indonesia's emergency evacuation

Sympathy and lessons learnt from Indonesia's emergency evacuation

Indonesia's military base on Natuna Island, Riau Islands Province, where Indonesians returning from Hubei Province, China, are being quarantined. (Feb 2020 (ANTARA FOTO/M Risyal Hidayat/aww/h-fdh.)

Natuna was selected owing to its easy accessibility and being most secure. It also had a military compound, thereby enabling quick responses
The novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan has posed a grave challenge to Mainland China, with the death toll burgeoning to 479 and the number of reported confirmed 2019-nCoV cases in Hubei reaching 16,678 on Tuesday.

Taking into account the mortality rate and the number of those infected by the virus within mainland China and outside the country, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 2019-nCoV as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

According to WHO's official website, as of February 3, 2020, cases of 2019-nCoV were reportedly confirmed in 23 countries, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, the United States, and the Philippines.

Indonesia and several other countries are working with Chinese authorities to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak. The evacuation is part of the accountability of the governments of those countries to their respective citizens.

The Indonesian government has brought 238 Indonesians home. They were airlifted aboard a chartered aircraft and arrived in Batam City, Riau Islands Province, on Sunday (Feb 2). On the same day, they were all sent to Natuna District for quarantine.

Prior to their departure, the Chinese authorities thoroughly checked the health condition of these 238 Indonesian evacuees before being allowed to board the aircraft that would fly them home.

The Chinese health authorities confirmed that the Indonesian evacuees were in good health, so they had consented to being airlifted, while Indonesian Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto noted that seven other Indonesians did not join the evacuation.

Four of the seven Indonesians refused to get evacuated since they felt more comfortable, though they had been offered to join the emergency evacuation, while three others failed the Chinese authorities' health examinations prior to the departure, Putranto remarked.

Several residents of Natuna District protested to the Indonesian government's decision to send the evacuees to Natuna Islands for quarantine.

Speaking in connection with Natuna District’s several residents rejecting the government's decision, Ansar Ahmad, a member of parliament, suggested that the government should carry out the evacuees' 14-day quarantine period on a naval ship rather than a land-based site.

"It is better if the evacuees get quarantined on an Indonesian naval ship equipped with sufficient logistics and health services," he stated.

Ahmad, a member of the Golkar Party Faction at the House of Representatives, remarked that the government should optimally raise awareness of its policy on choosing Natuna Islands in advance since the local people were petrified of the impacts of the deadly coronavirus.

Ahmad said he fully understood the people's fears of contracting the infection by the virus, though the Health Ministry had made assurance that all Indonesians airlifted from the Chinese city of Wuhan were in good health.

"The coronavirus information, spread on social and mainstream media, has triggered anxiety among several people," he stated.

Tendering an explanation to the people in Natuna, the government responded to the pros and cons of its decision to make the district's area a place for quarantining the evacuees.

On Feb 4, Indonesia's security minister, Mahfud MD, admitted to the government's slight delay in informing the residents of Natuna of its decision to send 238 Indonesians, airlifted from Wuhan City, China, to Natuna for quarantine.

"This is not miscommunication. It is just late information. The situation develops so rapidly that the government works at high speed soon after receiving a greenlight for evacuating our citizens from Wuhan, China," he noted.

In such a situation, the government took a prompt decision to choose Natuna District as a place to quarantine the evacuees, he stated while receiving Natuna District Head Abdul Hamid Rizal at his office in Jakarta on Feb 4.

Rizal was accompanied by his deputy, Ngesti Yuni Suprapti, Head of Natuna District's Legislative Body Andes Putra, and representatives of Natuna District's civil society groups, while Mahfud MD was accompanied by two related ministers.

Natuna was selected owing to its easy accessibility and being most secure. It also had a military compound, thereby enabling quick responses, he told his guests at the meeting, also attended by Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto and Home Minister Tito Karnavian.

However, a misunderstanding resulted from the delayed communication between the district administration and its people, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD stated.

He also promised to inform President Joko Widodo of the willingness of the Natuna district administration officials to meet with him. At least, he would come to Natuna to observe the situation, and the health minister also worked temporarily from Natuna.

In placating his people, who were unhappy with the government's decision, Natuna District Head Abdul Hamid Rizal was quoted by on Tuesday as saying that he was keen to invite Mahfud MD to visit Natuna this week.

During the visit, Mahfud MD was requested to become a "khatib" for the Friday prayer at the district's main mosque, so that he could deliver the Friday sermon containing messages that he might think necessary to be disseminated to members of the congregation.

The people, at large, in Indonesia, including those in Natuna Islands, may have consumed too much information on the worst-case scenario of this new coronavirus. In fact, people suffering from symptoms of this virus-caused infection have recovered.

China's Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian told several Indonesian journalists at a press briefing in Jakarta on Tuesday (Feb 4) that the number of Chinese patients confirmed to have recovered from the coronavirus infection exceeded the mortality rate.

Ambassador Qian remarked that at least 632 Chinese patients in Mainland China had recovered from the 2019-nCoV infection. This good news is not only heard from China but it has also been shared by those of Thailand and Malaysia.

In Malaysia, for instance, media reports revealed that a four-year-old girl had been discharged from a local hospital and allowed to return to China with her parent after the Malaysian authorities confirmed that she has recovered from the 2019-nCoV infection.

Considering the fact that the novel coronavirus patients within and outside China may be able to recover from the virus infection, staying calm and adopting a healthy lifestyle is a better choice for Indonesians in responding to this new coronavirus outbreak.

We in Indonesia have to support all endeavors that the government has made, including evacuating our countrymen from Wuhan and precautionary measures taken at the country's airports, seaports, and public hospitals.

For China and 23 other countries and territories whose people are currently struggling to recover, our hearts and minds are with them. No one wants to be in this difficult situation.
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