Monday, June 29, 2009

Foreign Visitors to Wear Face Masks As Govt Steps Up Fight Against Flu

Visitors arriving in Indonesia from “suspect” countries will be given face masks as part of efforts to prevent more swine flu infections, Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said on Monday.

“We will be giving masks to international visitors coming from countries suspected [of spreading] the A(H1N1) virus,” Bakrie said after a meeting with the Ministry of Health.

He said that few foreigners have been detected by thermal scanners at airports. Officials will now require all foreigners and Indonesians on international flights to pass through thermal scanners, without exception.

He did not provide more details about the plan, including the number of masks to be given to arriving passengers or whether the masks would be distributed before people got off the planes.

By Monday, eight people — five foreigners and three Indonesians — had been confirmed as having swine flu. The three Indonesians were treated at a hospital in Jakarta, while the foreigners were treated at a general hospital in Bali.

The first infected traveler, a 22-year-old British passport holder named Bobie Masoner, has already been released from Sanglah Hospital and was declared healthy last week.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said that all visitors from abroad would have to wear masks for three days after arriving.

“Visitors will be required to wear the masks for three days because the incubation stage for the swine flu is three days,” she said, adding that the country still had enough Tamiflu medication to counter the disease.

Bakrie said special steps would be taken to prepare for upcoming international events such as Sail Bunaken in Manado and an international conference on HIV/AIDS in Bali. “We’re going to coordinate with participating countries,” he said.

He added that money to pay for the masks would be taken from the budgets under the Health Ministry and the Indonesian National Committee for Avian Influenza and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness, or Komnas FBPI.

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