Batam port steps up surveillance of arrivals from Singapore, Malaysia amid coronavirus outbreak

A Malaysian health officer screens arriving passengers with a thermal scanner at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on Jan 21, 2020 . China has confirmed human-to-human transmission in the outbreak of a new SARS-like coronavirus as the number of cases soared and authorities said a fourth person had died, as the World Health Organisation said it would consider declaring an international public health emergency over the outbreak.

Batam Port Health Office in the Riau Islands has stepped up the surveillance of passengers arriving on ferries from neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia to head off the spread of the SARS-like coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.

Romer Simanungkalit, the health office's head of quarantine and epidemiology surveillance division, said thermal scanners had been installed at the international ferry port and Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam.

He said port officers carrying out the surveillance had also been equipped with protective gear such as face masks, gloves and other equipment.

"The officers have been given protective equipment because of the tighter surveillance they are carrying out," Romer told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. "How long we carry out these tighter surveillance measures depends on the escalation of the virus."

He added that the health office had also prepared an ambulance and coordinated with relevant agencies in case the virus was found in Batam.

"If there is an indication [that a passenger is infected] then we will quarantine and isolate them," he said.

Batam Health Agency head Didi Kusumayadi said his office was trying to get in contact with its counterpart in Singapore regarding suspected cases of the coronavirus there.

"We are looking for information but have not received any yet. It is important for us to monitor the situation in Singapore because there is a lot of traffic from that country," he said.

Didi said the health agency had appointed two hospitals - Embung Fatimah Public Hospital and the BP Batam Hospital - as reference hospitals for suspected coronavirus patients.

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He added that all passengers from Singapore would also be scanned through thermal scanners at the port and anyone with an above normal temperature would be examined.

In 2019, Singaporeans accounted for 47 per cent of the more than 2.5 million visitors to Riau Islands, while Chinese made up 10 per cent.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that there were 440 confirmed cases of the virus, including the United States' first case, a Washington state resident who had recently travelled to China.