Indonesians protest use of island for virus quarantine

by AFP/ pic by AFP

NATUNA – Hundreds of residents of a remote Indonesian island protested Monday at the government’s decision to use it to quarantine evacuees from the Chinese city at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Indonesia has evacuated 237 citizens and one foreign national, married to an Indonesian, from Wuhan.

The evacuees, mostly students, landed Sunday and will be quarantined for 14 days on Natuna island, which lies between Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia.

“The government’s decision to quarantine Indonesians who returned from China has made people feel uneasy, so we strongly reject it,” Fadillah, one of the protesters who like many Indonesians goes with one name, told AFP.

The protesters, wearing green surgical masks, demonstrated in front of the local parliament building, demanding the local authorities relocate the evacuation centre away from a residential area.

“Whatever the reason and the explanation, we don’t believe it. We believe this virus is very dangerous for people in Natuna,” Fadillah said.

In response to the growing protest on the island, President Joko Widodo said the returnees had to be quarantined to ensure they were in good health before they can return home.

“Those people are healthy, however several stages are needed in health protocol before they can be returned to their family,” Widodo said.

Following the evacuees’ arrival on Natuna, the local government has shut down schools for two weeks and urged students to limit outdoor activities.

The coronavirus epidemic has infected more than 17,000 people across China and reached 24 nations, although Indonesia has not reported any confirmed cases so far.