Foreign tourists to be asked to wear face masks


Indonesia is planning to ask all people arriving from Australia and other swine flu-affected countries to wear face masks for at least three days, the health minister says.

The presence of the A(H1N1) virus was confirmed in Indonesia only last week and so far four of the eight known cases have been foreigners.

“Visitors from infected countries should wear masks. It’s a precautionary measure we’re taking to avoid human-to-human transmission of the virus,” Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told AFP on Monday.

“We’ll give them the masks when they arrive at the airports and tell them to wear them for three days.”

But the minister said the government had no intention of enforcing the precaution, which could do serious damage to the country’s stuttering tourism industry.

“There’ll be no penalty if people don’t wear them. You can’t expect people to wear masks when they’re swimming,” Supari said, adding the masks would be handed out to visitors as soon as possible depending on funding.

She made the announcement after a ministerial meeting to discuss the swine flu outbreak in Indonesia.

Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie chaired the meeting and said funds would be allocated to pay for the masks, Antara news agency reported. Transportation Minister Jusman Sjafii Djamal also attended.

Supari said last week she was particularly worried about Australian tourists who flock to the famous surf beaches of Bali island. More than 300,000 Australian holiday-makers visited the island last year.

Australia is the Asia-Pacific country worst-hit by swine flu with more than 4,000 cases.

Indonesia has been the country hit hardest by avian influenza with 115 deaths since 2005.