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Flights delayed for Chinese stranded in Bali over virus fears

Jakarta, Feb 7 (AFP) Feb 07, 2020
Charter flights offered to thousands of Chinese tourists stranded in Bali after Indonesia halted flights over coronavirus fears have been delayed because travel permits have yet to be approved, Jakarta said Friday.

A diplomatic notice said Beijing was arranging flights for Friday back to Wuhan -- the epicentre of the deadly outbreak which has killed over 600 people and spread around the world.

Many of the marooned tourists are from the stricken city and surrounding Hubei province, the consulate had said.

But Indonesia's foreign affairs ministry said Friday it had not received the necessary paperwork to greenlight charter trips after the Southeast Asian nation shut down all commercial flights to and from mainland China.

"The Chinese embassy (in Jakarta) has not yet submitted technical details of the airplanes to relevant authorities which are required to apply for a permit," ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told AFP.

Chinese diplomats in Indonesia could not be immediately reached for comment.

Earlier, Bali airport authorities had said at least one empty commercial plane was set to arrive from Shanghai to pick up tourists who wanted to return.

It was not clear how many holidaymakers would take up the offer or who would pay for their tickets.

Indonesia attracts about 2.1 million Chinese visitors annually but the number has fallen from about 6,000 arrivals per day to just 1,000 since the outbreak began in mid-December.

The sprawling archipelago -- the world's fourth most populous country with over 260 million people -- has not reported a confirmed case of coronavirus.

That has stirred concerns cases may be going undetected in a nation with strong tourism and business links to China.

Indonesia has repatriated about 240 of its own citizens from the epicentre of the outbreak -- mostly university students studying in China.

The evacuees landed Sunday and have been quarantined for two weeks at a military hangar on Natuna island, which lies between Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia.

Indonesia's health ministry has released images on social media showing the evacuees doing morning exercises, playing games and singing karaoke.

But the move has set off protests by locals angry that the quarantine site was near a residential neighbourhood.

In response, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said Jakarta was mulling a plan to build a quarantine site elsewhere on the 17,000 island archipelago in case it was needed in future.




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