March 17, 2020 / 11:19 AM / in 2 months

Indonesia warns of escalating coronavirus cases, adds restrictions on foreign travellers

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is bracing for a significant increase in coronavirus cases as it widens efforts to locate and test victims, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said on Tuesday.

A cleaning worker wearing protective suit sprays disinfectant inside the cabin of a Lion Air's Boeing 737-800, amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport near Jakarta, Indonesia, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

“There will be quite a significant increase in the number of patients because we’re actively tracing,” he said.

Yurianto made the prediction as he revealed there were 38 new coronavirus cases in the past two days in Indonesia, bringing the total number of infections to 172, with five recorded deaths.

Most of the new cases were found in Jakarta, but they were also detected in East Java, Central Java and Riau Island provinces, he said. Previous cases had been found in Bali, Borneo and Sulawesi islands.

Indonesian authorities have come under fire from doctors and local media for their handling of coronavirus outbreak, in part for conducting too few tests of potential coronavirus sufferers.

As of Monday, the country of more than 260 million people had conducted a total of 1,230 coronavirus tests, according to its health ministry website. By contrast, South Korea, with less than one-fifth of Indonesia’s population, has tested more than 220,000 people.

The World Health Organization on Monday urged countries to do more testing as part of efforts to suppress the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it will prohibit the entry and transit of visitors from seven European countries plus Iran from March 20 due to coronavirus concerns.

The seven European countries are Britain, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Vatican City.

In addition, all travellers who wish to visit Indonesia for the next month will have to obtain a health certificate from their home countries and must apply for a visa from Indonesian missions, the ministry said in a statement.

The change means there will be a pause in Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival and visa exemption policies for short-term visitors.

Restrictions for travellers from China and South Korea’s Daegu city and Gyeongsangbuk-do province remain in place, the ministry said.

Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, has not declared a nationwide state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, the head of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB), Doni Monardo, has issued a circular extending the state of “certain emergencies” until May 29.

This allows greater access for the agency to allocate resources and conduct emergency operations, a BNPB spokesman said.

Indonesia’s stock index .JKSE fell 5% on Tuesday, while the rupiah IDR= dropped 1.7%, extending their falls amid capital outflows on fears of the virus outbreak.

Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo, Tom Allard, Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Maikel Jefriando; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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