Coronavirus has reached West Papua

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According to local reports, the Coronavirus has reached West Papua. On 26 March, local hospitals were able to identify seven cases of COVID-19 in the Papuan cities of Merauke, Jayapura and Biak. The patients’ age ranged from 21 to 51 years old and they all had returned recently from trips to Jakarta or other cities in West Indonesia. Local Governments reacted immediately and took various measures to prevent the quick spreading of the virus.

The Governor of Papua ordered the closure of airports and harbors for travelers. The Regency of Jayawijaya also closed the airport in the highland town of Wamena for passenger flights. Only cargo flights are still permitted to land in the regency. In the city of Jayapura, pharmacies were allegedly running out of face masks and hand sanitizers by 23 March. People began to buy larger quantities of corona-related medical supplies after the spreading of the virus to West Papua was made public by multiple media outlets. The Minister for Home Affairs, Tito Carnavian, stated in a public interview that he did not agree with the Governor’s decision to close access to the province of Papua. He added that the central Government had only urged the provinces to prevent public activities or assemblies which might be attended by a large number of people.

It is currently not clear how the Corona pandemic will affect the human rights situation in West Papua. It is likely that the authorities in West Papua will – more than before – impose strong restrictions on the freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. A major question is whether the hospitals and medical personnel will be able to cope with a quickly rising number of Corona patients. Human rights activists and observers stated that the hospitals in West Papua, even those in the large cities, fall far behind the national health care standards.

In early March, the Indonesian Government had already ordered the closing of schools throughout March in entire Indonesia. Shortly after, foreigners were temporarily banned from accessing Indonesia through international airports like Jakarta and Bali and most international flights were canceled. The internet website World Meters published global Corona statistics according to which 893 cases were confirmed in Indonesia as of 27 March 2020, most of them in the capital Jakarta – seventy-eight people reportedly died as a result of COVID-19 while 35 recovered.