As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, we are concerned to see the dramatic rise in cases around the world. There has been a steady increase in cases in our main programme area of Indonesia, with the latest totals reaching 579 and a devastating report of 49 confirmed deaths.
Although there are now a small number of confirmed cases in Medan, we are thankful our communities in Mentawai, Nias, Sumbawa and Sumba are yet to report any positive cases. We are taking action to ensure the safety of our staff and communities by continuing to practice social distancing. Additionally, to do everything we can to help stop the spread of COVID-19, we have been forced to make the difficult decision to postpone or severely limit our activities in the field by our local staff.
Hygiene kits have been distributed to all our staff including soap and wipes (hand sanitizer is now a rare commodity). With support from the local government, we have translated prevention materials into the local languages, and are printing and distributing the posters in our communities. This will ensure our remote communities have access to the latest recommended prevention methods and information to stay safe.
All of our program staff are working remotely, including our Head office team in Medan. We have implemented a travel ban to our program areas from our Head Office staff and consultants for the next two weeks. As of last Friday the Indonesian government cancelled the Visa on Arrival program for arriving foreigners, but international airports continue to operate. Domestic travel is ongoing. The Jakarta Governor declared a 14-day state of emergency in the capital city on Saturday in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
We recently commenced working in Sumba and Sumbawa and the new staff were keen to begin implementing our programs. Our work in the community is now postponed as we continue to observe the situation.
Indonesia has encouraged social distancing and in recent days began to put in place measures to stop the spread of the virus. Efforts however have been focused on large cities and remote communities like ours may be left behind. In the likely event of a sudden influx of patients there is a shortage of supplies and protective equipment in Indonesian hospitals.
Our cervical cancer screening partnership project in Solomon Islands has been halted due to the travel restrictions and our US led healthy water project with Rotario Del Los Barriles ceased training this past weekend. Local staff are continuing to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and we are grateful that as of this time, there are currently no positive cases reported in either of our partner communities.
SurfAid’s current focus is to review our sanitation approach to date, and adapting our model so we are well placed to resume our projects when it is safe to do so. Our success with implementing projects on clean water and sanitation have proven to be beneficial, with hand washing being the best prevention for spreading COVID-19.
We will continue to monitor the situation daily and update you as the crisis unfolds. Ensuring our staff and communities are safe and healthy remains our highest priority as is our concern for our global SurfAid tribe.