30 June 2009

Swine Flu, Tourists, Face Masks, and Indonesia

The Minister of Health (and Conspiracy Theories and Other Crazy Ideas) has decided that all tourists from swine flu affected countries must where face masks for the first three days after their arrival in Indonesia. It seems that the fact that 50% of the eight cases of swine flu or the A(H1N1) virus confirmed in Indonesia has tipped the scales in favour of all foreigners from all swine flu affected countries being required to don the face masks. This is presumably even the case if the incoming tourist successfully negotiates the thermal scanner (photo).

According to the Minister, this is a precautionary measure in order to prevent human-to-human transmission. Yep, I can see it now, the tourists from swine flu affected countries in the late night entertainment areas of Legian and Kuta painting the town red in their designer face masks. The question though is really one of enforcement. And, as the Minister of Conspiracy Theories points out, it is going to be a little hard to enforce the requirement for people wanting to go swimming, or perhaps eating, or drinking, or myriad of other pursuits that would undoubtedly be hampered by the mask.

The government recognizes that if it were to jump up and down in order to show that it was serious about this, then there could be a spanner thrown into the works of the slow but sure recovery of the tourism industry in places like Bali. Hence, there is no penalty if people choose not to wear the mask after they are given it at the airport.

This begs the question, "Why bother?"

This is especially so when the new "policy" is still unfunded and the Department of Health is still trying to ascertain where the funds are coming from to buy the masks that are going to be handed out for free. The true Indonesian entrepreneurial spirit would have been to tag an extra USD 5 on each visa on arrival to cover the cost of the mask. Let's face it, it is still cheaper to pay the fiver than it is to stand on principle and turn around and board the next flight back to wherever it is that you came from.

This brilliant policy initiative came out of a meeting chaired by the Coordinating Minister of His Own Family's Welfare (oops Peoples' Welfare), Aburizal Bakrie, who said the funds would be made available for the purchase of the masks.

This also begs a question, "Aren't there more important matters that require immediate funding?" It also possibly begs a second question, "When does the Minister think that his family companies and the government will get around to finalizing the Lapindo matter, particularly the outstanding payments to those affected by that disaster?"

Funnily enough, the Health Minister has indicated that she is particularly concerned by the huge numbers of Australian tourists that invade Bali annually. I noted in my previous post on swine flu that it was a perfect scenario for the doomsdayers, conspiracy theorists, and Commission I of the DPR to ratchet up the idea that swine flu was another attempt by foreigners to covertly usurp Indonesian sovereignty through the spread of disease.

This really is a case for the "Why Bother?" files. It is such a waste of money, particularly when the money can be better spent elsewhere.


lawhel said...

something has to be done however. How come Malaysia has so many cases?? Singapore is understandable.

Rob Baiton said...


Maybe something has to be done. How about better screening methods? How about ensuring properly trained and skilled medical professionals? How about sufficient supply of medications to treat infections?

There are plenty of things that can be done of a "real" and "practical" nature. The point of the post is that by their own admission this is not a policy that is going to be enforced. Hence the question, "Why go to the expense in the first place?"

It is not because they use or don't use face masks.

Why is Singapore more understandable than anywhere else?

lawhel said...

more tourists and more interaction in small spaces?? im puzzled about malaysia - hot place so low infection rate. Oz - cold place = higher rate. No?

IM not supporting Ms Beehive but she is right to single out Oz as being a concern as it is a country with high no of infections and with high numbers of tourists.

Rob Baiton said...


I am not a specialist in pandemics and particularly not an expert on swine flu.

The post was really to highlight the absurdity of spending money on a policy initiative that you, by your own admission, are not going to enforce.

This is not to say that there is not some correlation between confined spaces or temperatures of certain locales and the like. I simply do not know, and was not focusing on that anyway.

Nah, this is just another chance for the conspiracy theories and a round of Australia (foreigner) bashing in the lead up to the presidential election, politics.

I have a conspiracy theory of my own; I wonder if Indonesia is fully reporting the number of local swine flu infections it has or is this another case of chronic under-reporting?

lawhel said...

I would say they dont know yet. Btw there is a lot of common flu around (well I hope it is..)

Rob Baiton said...


Well, if it is not common flu, then you have some choices in Indonesia...bird flu, maybe?