May 6, 2020 / 11:56 AM / a month ago

Coronavirus outbreak at Philip Morris tobacco plant in Java

JAKARTA (Reuters) - More than 60 workers at a factory run by the Indonesian unit of U.S. tobacco giant Philip Morris have tested positive for the coronavirus after operations were suspended when two staff died from COVID-19, a provincial government official said.

PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk, one of Indonesia’s largest cigarette companies, halted operations at its factory in the East Java city of Surabaya on April 26 after the two deaths, with subsequent testing revealing a coronavirus cluster.

Joni Wahyuhadi of the East Java COVID-19 taskforce said 61 workers had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“All have been isolated and contract tracing has been handled by the city government,” Wahyuhadi told Reuters.

The factory implemented strict physical distancing protocols, temperature checks and other hygiene protocols since mid-March, after the first case of the coronavirus was announced in Indonesia, said Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for Philip Morris International.

In an earlier statement, Sampoerna said operations had been suspended until further notice for “deep cleaning and sanitization” while its products would be held from the market for five days.

According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard.

There are more than 500 employees at the Sampoerna factory, and more than 90 who displayed flu-like symptons are currently under quarantine in a hotel, said Wahyuhadi.

The discovery of the cluster comes as Wahyuhadi said several hospitals in Indonesia’s second-biggest city of Surabaya, where the Sampoerna factory is located, had become overloaded with patients.

“We are continuing to make an emergency hospital, and there are already three (treatment) tents,” he said.

Indonesia’s COVID-19 taskforce head Doni Monardo said on Monday the country’s overall infection rate had dropped by 11 percent, though on Tuesday the country recorded its highest daily increase in cases, with another 484 infections.

Indonesia has officially recorded 12,071 infections and 872 deaths, the largest death toll in East Asia outside China.

Asked whether he felt the infection rate was stabilising in Indonesia, epidemiologist Panji Fortuna Hadisoemarto said that for Jakarta and its surrounds and the city of Bandung in West Java that seemed to be the case.

“But in East Java, it seems to be spiking once more,” said Hadisoemarto, who teaches at Padjadjaran University.

East Java has recorded the third highest number of cases in Indonesia with a total 1,171 infections, behind Jakarta and West Java, and the second highest death toll of 117.

Surabaya deputy mayor Whisnu Sakti Buana confirmed that healthcare capacities was being boosted, but the infection rate in Surabaya had dropped.

(This story corrects sourcing in paragraph 8)

Additional reporting by Stanley Widianto, Kate Lamb and Bernadette Christina Munthe. Writing by Kate Lamb. Editing by Ed Davies, William Maclean

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