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Returning Indonesia tourists pose grave threat to Australian virus control: expert


While the number of confirmed cases in Bali is just six, pictures and videos have emerged of tourists dying on the streets as local hospitals struggle to cope with new cases.

Planes headed to Australia’s large northern neighbour are increasingly empty and daily routes home to Australia with airlines including Qantas, Virgin, Garuda, AirAsia, Malindo Air and Jetstar are either hard to find or have been cancelled outright.

Bali Tourism Board figures show that by March 23, the number of international arrivals in Denpasar had fallen precipitously to 892, against 4343 departures. On March 2, when Indonesia belatedly confirmed its first two coronavirus infections, 9924 people arrived in the Balinese capital while 11,048 departed.

The total number of reported cases in Indonesia, population 270 million, is just 790 but the death toll is 58, with fewer than 3000 tests undertaken. Australia, with 25 million people, has tested more than 178,000 while South Korea, about 50 million citizens, has done more than 300,000 tests.

Professor Mackay said the closure of Australia’s borders had potential to flatten the curve “unless we already have widespread community infection”.

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“The biggest threat now in Australia part from widespread community transmission… is the threat from travellers coming back from outside Australia.”

“I think Indonesia in particular at the moment is a big risk, there are a lot of deaths there but not a lot cases, which means a lot of under-reporting.

“What we don’t know yet is how many people are here and spreading before those border closures happened.”

He also singled out the Philippines, which hosts fewer Australian travellers but also has low testing numbers and a high death rate, as a risk.

Australian National University security expert John Blaxland said Australia needed to be more organised and better prepared at screening travellers.

“We can’t let another Ruby Princess [cruise ship] happen. We should be talking about putting everyone who comes back in converted hotels which are quarantine stations,” he said.

“We need to establish more robust quarantine arrangements. Western Australia has done this in establishing Rottnest Island as a quarantine station. These are alien steps to young people but not alien to us as a society.”

Blaxland, who recently returned from a conference in Paris at which two people had subsequently been diagnosed with coronavirus and later died, said he had recently been tested for coronavirus and was awaiting results while remaining self-isolated.

He said he had been handed a couple of forms to fill out at immigration in Sydney but that was it.

“We should be letting people come back but we have to be more organised. I could have gone anywhere, there were no checks.”

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