Govt Suspends Pork Imports, Boosts Airport Scanners

JAKARTA ~ The authorities suspended pork imports and increased body-temperature scanners at airports this week as senior officials tried to calm fears that swine flu had spread to the country.

Senior ministers met to discuss the threat of swine flu after it killed some 84 people in Mexico and spread rapidly to other countries, sparking fears of a pandemic.

“We have to really start today doing everything that must be done including control (and) checking airlines, especially those coming from Mexico, the United States and other countries where there have been cases of swine flu,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said.

“We’re taking all the steps we can. We’re not panicking but everyone should be prepared.”

Government pandemic preparedness chief Bayu Krisnamurthi said Indonesia had slapped a temporary ban on all pork and live pigs “as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the virus here.”

Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said additional measures would be taken at airports to screen passengers for signs of the flu.

“In response to the swine flu, we are installing thermoscanners at 10 airports to detect ill travellers entering Indonesia,” he said.

Until now Indonesia had operated such scanners only at the airport in Bali, as a precaution against SARS and bird flu.

Passengers arriving from the Americas would be asked to fill out special health cards stating details of their medical histories and countries they had recently visited, Ervan said.

Indonesia is the country worst hit by avian influenza, or bird flu, with 115 confirmed human deaths since 2003.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari, whose refusal to share bird flu viral samples with international vaccine researchers has stirred controversy, said Indonesians should not panic as swine flu had not affected tropical countries.

“It takes place during autumn and winter. Our country is always hot. Don’t panic,” she said.

Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said the government had learned lessons from its fight against bird flu which would serve it well in the event of a swine flu outbreak.

“The symptoms are the same (for both viruses), so the ministerial meeting resolved to use the preparations in place for bird flu for swine flu,” he said.

Officials had no figures for imports of pigs and pork products to Indonesia but said they were “not significant.” Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 234 million people are Muslims who generally do not eat pork.

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