East Timor imposes first coronavirus lockdown over outbreak fears

FILE PHOTO: Women wearing protective masks look on as they walk on a street after the government announced new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dili, East Timor, April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Lirio da Fonseca/File Photo

DILI (Reuters) - The tiny Southeast Asian nation of East Timor will put its capital city on a coronavirus lockdown for the first time, its government said on Monday, amid fears it could be facing its first local outbreak.

A “sanitary fence and mandatory confinement” will be imposed in Dili for seven days from midnight Monday with residents asked to stay home unless necessary to leave, the country’s council of ministers said in statement.

It said the measure was because of a “high probability of community transmission”, but did not elaborate.

“It is forbidden to travel, by land, sea or air, out of this municipality, except in duly justified cases for reasons of safety, public health, humanitarian or other that are necessary for the accomplishment of the public interest,” it said.

A former Portuguese colony with a population of 1.2 million, East Timor has detected just 122 cases of the coronavirus, most of which were imported.

But its porous border with Indonesia, which has recorded close to 1.38 million COVID-19 cases and more than 37,000 deaths, has raised concern the virus could spread and wreak havoc on East Timor’s poorly equipped healthcare system.

All social, cultural, sporting or religious events that involve gatherings are also temporarily banned during the lockdown, which could be extended on March 15, it said.

The council of ministers also approved a national vaccination plan, with 33,000 doses expected to arrive in the country at the end of March.

Reporting by Nelson Da Cruz in Dili and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Editing by Martin Petty