Jakarta (AFP) June 24, 2009
Indonesia expressed concern Wednesday that Australian tourists are bringing swine flu into the country via the resort island of Bali, as it confirmed its first two cases of the virus.
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said she was "very worried" that Australians who flock to Bali's famous surf beaches would spread the virus in a country that had so far avoided the worst of the pandemic.
"Honestly I'm very worried about people who come from Australia," she told reporters at a press conference held to announce the first two confirmed cases in Indonesia, including a British woman who lived in Australia.
"We have to be more vigilant about Australian tourists so there won't be more cases of (A)H1N1 from Australia. One is enough."
The 22-year-old Briton was recovering in hospital in Bali after travelling to Indonesia from her home in the Australian state of Victoria, Dr. Agus Somia of Bali's Sanglah Hospital told AFP.
The second case, a 37-year-old Indonesian pilot, had travelled to Australia and stopped over in Hong Kong before being diagnosed with (A)H1N1 in Indonesia, Supari said.
Both patients had been isolated and were recovering, she said.
"No Indonesians have been infected with swine flu here. It has all come from outside," she said.
"Don't panic. It won't cause death but we should all be careful."
She said Indonesia was "taking specific action" at Bali's international airport at Denpasar, one of Indonesia's main entry points for foreign tourists, to monitor passengers for (A)H1N1.
Asked whether Australians were being subjected to extra health checks as they arrived in Bali, she said simply: "Of course, they will be checked too."
The health ministry's crisis centre chief, Rustam Pakaya, said there were no extra measures in place specific to Australian visitors.
"We've asked visitors from all countries to fill in health cards and it's also standard operating procedure for anyone experiencing a high temperature to alert cabin crew," he told AFP.
Australia is the worst-hit country in the Asia-Pacific region with 2,873 swine flu cases, more than half of them in Victoria. The country has recorded three swine flu-related deaths.
More than 310,000 Australians visited Bali last year, according to official figures.
Supari also voiced fears that (A)H1N1 could form a deadly combination with the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has killed more than 110 people in Indonesia.
Experts fear there is a small but real chance that a combination of genetic material from the two viruses could create a fast-spreading, highly-deadly hybrid strain.
"We don't want them to combine... because (a combined virus) will be as vicious as H5N1, or a little less, and will spread like (A)H1N1," the health minister said.
"If that happens, the world will be very scared. Indonesia is also very scared. That's why Indonesia is an extraordinary case and we're working very hard because we're worried about such a combination."
Indonesian authorities earlier in the year increased the use of body temperature scanners at airports and imposed a ban on the import of live pigs and pork products in a bid to combat the disease, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
A(H1N1), which emerged in Mexico in April, has killed 238 people worldwide and infected more than 55,000 people in over 100 countries, but no cases had been confirmed in Indonesia until Wednesday.
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