Singaporean Embassy asks Indonesian news outlets to correct monkeypox coverage

Screenshots: (Left) Batamnews.co.id article with disputed sentence highlighted. (Right) Statement by the Singaporean Embassy in Jakarta via Facebook.
Screenshots: (Left) Batamnews.co.id article with disputed sentence highlighted. (Right) Statement by the Singaporean Embassy in Jakarta via Facebook.

News about a case of the rare monkeypox virus being confirmed in Singapore last week naturally set off concerns about contagion in the city-state as well as surrounding countries, including Indonesia. The Singaporean embassy in Indonesia has taken issue with some coverage by the country’s media outlets, accusing them of inaccurately embellishing the disease’s threat.  

In a post to the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta’s official Facebook page, the diplomatic mission issued a statement specifying two media outlets they say have included inaccurate statements in their coverage of the monkeypox story. The statement also includes letters to the editors of those publications.

Some Indonesian media outlets, such as Batamnews.co.id and Kompas.com, have recently reported that monkeypox has spread…

Singapore Embassy in Jakarta 发布于 2019年5月15日周三

The embassy’s general problem with both news sites, as well as other unspecified Indonesian media outlets, is their reporting that “monkeypox has spread widely in Singapore”.

“This is inaccurate. Thus far, only one imported case of monkeypox has been confirmed, and the risk of community spread of monkeypox within Singapore is low,” the statement says, referring readers to a release from Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) detailing the specifics of the confirmed monkeypox case and the government’s response.

The first letter in the statement is addressed to Wisnu Nugroho, the editor-in-chief of Kompas, one of Indonesia’s biggest newspapers. The statement refers to a Kompas article about Singapore checking incoming plane passengers for Monkeypox using thermal detectors, specifically a sentence in the caption to its header photo.

The caption for the header photo indicated that monkeypox is “known to have spread widely in Singapore” (“Mulai maraknya merebah wabah penyakit baru yang dikenal dengan sebutan cacar monyet yang belakangan diketahui penyebarannya sudah meluas di Singapura”). This is inaccurate. Thus far, only one imported case of monkeypox has been confirmed. The risk of community spread of monkeypox within Singapore is low, and there is no evidence to date that human-to-human transmission alone can sustain monkeypox infections in the human population.

An update to the post made late last night says that Kompas made the relevant correction to the article.

The other letter was to Muhammad Zhur, editor-in-chief of Batamnews.co.id. It takes issue with an article about the Health Office of Bintan Island asking the Port Health Office (KKP) to screen Singaporean tourists for monkeypox, specifically a line saying: “This is done to anticipate that the monkey virus (monkeypox) which is rife in Singapore does not enter Bintan.”

The article indicated that monkeypox is “rife” in Singapore in the line “Hal itu dilakukan untuk mengantisipasi agar virus cacar monyet (monkeypox) yang marak di Singapura tak masuk ke Bintan”. This is inaccurate. Thus far, only one imported case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Singapore. The risk of community spread of monkeypox within Singapore is low, and there is no evidence to date that human-to-human transmission alone can sustain monkeypox infections in the human population.

As of the time of writing, the original Batamnews.co.id article still contains that line, but the news outlet did post a follow-up article about the Singaporean embassy’s objections.

Singapore first confirmed the monkeypox case — the first ever detected inside the country — on May 9. According to the MOH release, it entered the city-state via a Nigerian man who is thought to have contracted the rare virus by eating bushmeat at a wedding.

Symptoms in humans of monkeypox — which is endemic in parts of Central and Western Africa — include lesions, fever, muscle ache and chills.

Transmission is usually via close contact with infected animals such as rodents and monkeys and is limited between people. It is not normally fatal but has been in rare cases.

According to MOH, the man who brought in the virus arrived in Singapore on April 28. The 38-year-old developed symptoms two days later and remains isolated at an infectious disease center in stable condition.

Another 23 individuals who had been in close contact with the man were also quarantined and will require monitoring for 21 days.

“While risk of spread is low, MOH is taking precautions,” the ministry said.

Outside Africa, human monkeypox infections had only been previously reported in the United States, Britain and Israel, according to the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Singapore has toughened measures against infectious diseases after it was hit hard by the 2003 SARS virus outbreak.

The disease killed 33 people in Singapore, inflicted major losses on the economy and hit the number of international visitors.

With additional reporting by AFP


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