COVID-19 was first detected in Jakarta on 3rd March 2020. Since then, the number of positive cases in Indonesia has risen dramatically to over 1000 cases per day.
Large-scale social restrictions in the capital took effect on 10th April, international and domestic flights have been restricted, foreign missions in Indonesia urged their citizens to return home – considering the continuing rise in the number of cases and concerns over the country’s healthcare systems – and the fate of employments for both locals and expats became uncertain.
The global pandemic has taken a toll on everybody’s livelihoods. Sometimes, it’s best to return home – and this is what some expats who had been living in Indonesia have done. Indonesia Expat has spoken to three expats from Europe; Sander van der Meer (SM), Rodrigo Gallego Abad (RGA), and Anonymous (A) who have decided to quarantine away from Jakarta, a place that turned into a ghost town. Let’s get a glimpse in on their lives at home and whether they’ll continue their pre-pandemic lives in Indonesia.
Where are you from and where did you stay in Indonesia?
SM: I’m from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I’ve been living in Jakarta for almost 11 months with my wife and two daughters, Nola who’s three and Louen who’s one.
RGA: I’m from Madrid, Spain and I stayed in Jakarta because of my work and professional projects.
A: I’m from France, and I lived and worked in Jakarta.
When and why did you leave Indonesia?
SM: Around the end of March, my family and I temporarily went back to the Netherlands due to COVID-19. In that time, flights were closing and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Jakarta advised everyone to travel back to The Netherlands.
RGA: I left in March, before COVID-19 exploded, due to a work project in Spain for 15 days. After that business trip, I found myself trapped in Spain.
A: I didn’t leave Indonesia. I left Jakarta in April with no intention to stay for a long time, but flights had started to be banned. Therefore, I’ve been stuck in Bali.
Did you leave with your whole family or alone? If you left with your family, how are your children coping?
SM: I left with my family. We told our three-year-old daughter that we were going on holiday. Luckily we were able to get her to NAS (North Anglia International School, formerly known as NIS) in Rotterdam which was re-opening again. This majorly helped us as it gave some structure to our daily activities as we both work full-time.
RGA: I don’t have kids and my wife is luckily in Spain at the moment. From a personal point of view, it’s been easier than expected. I’ve been able to share the lockdown in my hometown with my wife, be near my family, and not live a solo-expat-life.
A: I left alone as I’m still single.
What happens to your accommodation in Indonesia while you’re back in your home country?
SM: We urged and requested our helpers to stay at our house instead of their hometowns because we feel it’s safer for them, especially for our helper who’s over 60. Ibu Desi and Ibu Ida are our second and Indonesian family. It’s very important for us that they remain in a safe and healthy environment. Also, their relatives, like their siblings, have been staying at our house during our time in The Netherlands.
RGA: Actually, I was just moving to a new place. My personal belongings were just recently moved to the new house and are still in boxes since four months ago.
A: My accommodation has been sat empty for the past few months.
What have you been up to since you left?
SM: Our headquarters are based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and partly re-opened after the Dutch government released the restriction measures. I’ve been working at the office for a few days a week and been working from home on other days for the past few months. This works pretty well for me as I’m now able to meet my colleagues in The Netherlands for longer periods, which is quite a positive experience. My wife, Karen, is working for the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta so she works from home.
RGA: I’ve been working from home, trying to innovate and create new projects related to football and focusing on new digital projects. Now, my objective is to catch up with all my contacts in Indonesia and start setting up some face-to-face meetings hopefully soon.
A: Actually, I’ve been working very hard from home. I’m working on a project for an Indonesian client.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your job or business?
SM: I’m working for TOS (Transport and Offshore Services) as the commercial manager. TOS is a worldwide supplier of personnel services within the maritime and offshore industry. In simple words, we provide seafarers who are working worldwide on vessels or in the offshore industry. This is a niche market which isn’t very well known to the general public.
Furthermore, we provide staffing services and provide turnkey ship deliveries while serving around 1,500 crew members daily. Due to all the travel restrictions, we weren’t able to mobilise our crew to our worldwide projects. We see projects being postponed or cancelled which will have a direct impact on our business. This resulted in a drop in our turnover and crew on board with 25 percent compared to the previous months. Not good, but compared to other companies, it could be much worse.
We feel and see our clients are getting used to the “new normal” and requests for the crew are slowly coming again in the last several weeks. Travel restrictions will be partly lifted soon.
RGA: There’s been a big impact. I’m working for La Liga, a Spanish football competition, and we’ve been directly affected and suspended for the last three months. Luckily for us, we are going back to normal and we can play again following new protocols for the rest of the 2019/2020 season. But overall, it’s been a big challenge for the company.
A: Obviously, there’s a business slowdown and we can predict that it will last for another few months. However, I also noticed that the nature of projects has changed towards digital transformation projects or costs reduction.
Indonesia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases are consistently increasing despite welcoming the “new normal”. Would you consider returning to Indonesia anytime soon? Why?
SM: We will travel to Jakarta on 4th July. We have set some personal conditions before we return. International flights should be regularly operating, offices are reopening again, and in case of any emergency for ourselves or our children, there should be the opportunity to fly out to another country. Flight regularity from The Netherlands to Jakarta are increasing again. The Jakarta office is partly opened since last week and our insurance company confirmed we can fly out in case of a medical emergency.
RGA: Yes. I need to be back for several projects that I have pending for the 2020/2021 season. I trust with the proper medical precautions, I can go back to my normal professional life in Indonesia.
A: Yes. I’ll go back to Jakarta this week as I might be requested to go back to the office soon.
If you do return, what extra precautions or changes will you instil in terms of health, job, children’s education, and property?
SM: First of all, we will stay at home and self-quarantine for 14 days according to the Indonesian government’s requirement after someone travels in from abroad. We will then set some measures at our office such as hand sanitisers, thermometers, 50 percent occupation, splitting teams into shifts, and so forth. I think we should also use common sense by wearing masks, keeping safe distances, washing our hands, not attending meetings when it’s not required, unnecessary travels, etc.
RGA: I’ll be practising physical distancing, wearing masks and gloves everywhere, as well as avoiding mass events.
A: I’ll be careful on a day-to-day basis, making sure I properly wash my hands, and practice physical distancing.
The chances of a COVID-19 second wave in Indonesia is high, referring to other countries which have lifted their lockdowns and then experienced second waves. Will you leave Indonesia again and will it be a firm move?
SM: I can`t say yes or no on this one as it depends on many factors such as flights, medical care, measures from the government, etc. Luckily my company supports us completely in the decision we make, be in staying in Indonesia or returning to The Netherlands. If we do move back, it’ll be a temporary move as we have our business and life in Indonesia and Asia.
RGA: I don’t think so. In the end, the lockdown and the precautions are the same in all the countries. Next time, I will stay and accompany my expat friends in Indonesia!
A: I will stay in Indonesia since I have my work and personal life here, and I know the good hospitals in case I need care.