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An Expat’s Isolation Experience in Jakarta

isolation

Disclaimer: The following is the opinion and experience of one person and doesn’t reflect the views of the Indonesia Expat. 

I tested positive with a PCR test after arriving at Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Tangerang, on 3rd January 2022. I had landed on flight 56 from Istanbul.

This is the story of what happened.

3rd January 

Upon arriving at the airport, all arriving travellers must go through seven checkpoints. 

  1. Check boarding pass and passport 
  2. Check PCR test results from your departing country and vaccine status 
  3. Another check goes on following distribution of a bar code 
  4. Registration for COVID-19 test
  5. COVID-19 test taken
  6. Barcode check before going to immigration 
  7. Immigration process

Once all checkpoints are cleared, travellers can go through baggage claims and customs.

I had my belongings with me as I looked around for my chosen quarantine hotel representative to take me there. They weren’t there so I waited for 20 minutes. I then headed outside and waited for 30 minutes more while looking for transportation to take me to the hotel.

After I made it to the quarantine hotel, I checked in and was welcomed by a nice and cordial receptionist. It was time to head upstairs to my room with the bellman. I was pleased to call it a day and rest after a long flight.

Yet, just 30 minutes later and to my surprise, a member of the hotel staff, someone from the Health Ministry, an Indonesian National Army guard, plus hotel security came to my room and informed me that I had tested positive for COVID-19 based on my PCR test taken upon arrival at the airport.

I was told to evacuate from the hotel and move to a COVID-19 isolation hotel the next morning with a refund of the money I had already paid to stay at the quarantine hotel.

My response was that I felt fine – there were no symptoms whatsoever. I also asked them to allow me to take another PCR test and check my temperature. They did check my temperature and it was normal, but they were adamant that a retest was not possible.

Eventually, I was told to move to an isolation hotel in Pulomas, East Jakarta to isolate myself. Expenses during this isolation were to be independently borne, including the hotel room, transportation, doctors, nurses, food, and PCR tests.

4th January 

It was the day after my apparent positive result came out. Two staff arrived at my door at 10:30 am, dressed in full PPE, and told me I was being evacuated to the isolation hotel.

I followed them to the service elevator down to the basement parking, where I was rudely told to get in the car. I counted at least eight people – some from the hotel, others from a company in charge of isolation policies or the Health Ministry, and security guards. It was like I was a criminal or a freak show.

I fully understand why I have to isolate; when I arrived in Indonesia from overseas my PCR test was positive. However, I never received a printout or a soft copy of the result – they only showed me “positive” on a piece of paper, and they refused my request to take another test to verify the results.

I am aware that some labs in Jakarta use 35.00 and below as positive, while others use 40.00 and below. It’s worth noting that after I checked out of isolation 11 days later, my positive test from the airport was in my file and it was 34.87, or very close to being negative.

I’ve arrived at the isolation hotel. The Indonesian army was stationed in the front of the hotel and yellow police lines surrounded the area where guests were placed for isolation. I waited for 45 minutes with the driver until I was able to check in.

The receptionist said there was no record of my reservation although the quarantine hotel’s staff had informed me they made one the night before. My driver had to call the hotel and wait for them to email the soft copy, even though he said he had brought the hard copies of my documents with him.

In my mind, this hotel is completely unsuitable for isolation for people who tested positive for COVID-19; it is a poor quality hotel lacking normal hotel amenities.

This isolation hotel can be described as a “no-tell motel” where guests are driven in and the garage doors are closed behind them. This hotel is used for short-time rentals by the hour and is certainly not suitable for foreigners and Indonesians that are subject to isolation. It leaves a very bad impression.

The hotel room had no blanket, refrigerator, minibar, maid service, wardrobe, closet with hangers, coffee, tea, or water heater. The AC was poor and the room was not cool. The WiFi didn’t work – it was only fixed after I had been held there for five days. No international news channels were on TV, there was only a very poor selection of channels.

Furthermore, the service baffled me. The hotel is full of expats yet the operator didn’t speak English.

Some staff – like the ones delivering food – were taking pictures of me.

Speaking of the food, it was of poor quality and was delivered in a paper box in small portions. I cannot eat white fish because I am allergic, but the hotel never asked if I have any allergies. There is no choice of food at all.

Even when I ordered a cup of coffee, I was told all they have is black coffee and no creamer or milk. I said okay that doesn’t matter and half an hour later the coffee was brought to me. I handed over Rp100,000 expecting change, but there wasn’t any given.

Want to know how much it costs to isolate here? Rp14 million.

Agoda charges Rp4.5 million for nine nights. This breaks down to one night for a maximum of Rp500,000 inclusive of tax and service. Transportation costs Rp260,000.

Three meals a day at Rp30,000 including two bread snacks cost Rp100,000 per day. For 10 days, that would be Rp1 million.

In terms of healthcare, the doctor visits three times for Rp750,000 and the nurse visits seven times for Rp1,050,000. That totals up to Rp1.8 million. You get three vitamins per day for 10 days, costing Rp300,000. Also, there are two PCR tests at Rp275,000, totalling Rp550,000.

Add all that up and you get Rp8,410,100! Someone is making a nice profit of Rp5,590,000.

Note that a quality four-star hotel like the one I had booked only charges Rp11.5 million for 10 days. The best part: my two dogs had to stay in a Pet Hotel worth Rp550,000 per day. I missed them very much.

Anyways, I had my initial check-up with the doctor. My temperature was normal and I showed no symptoms. The doctor said that I was healthy.

I requested another PCR test in four to five days and asked to be allowed to leave the hotel if the test came out negative. That’s impossible; I had to stay for 10 days no matter what. I thought, “let’s see what happens.”

5th January

No visit from the nurse today. Once again I asked the admin of the company appointed to implement and oversee isolation policies and procedures to please transfer me to a decent hotel and denied my request as I must isolate for 10 days here – even if I test negative with a PCR test.

Three doctors have verified that if I test negative with a PCR test that I am no longer contagious.

I asked the admin to please fix the WiFi and she said, “yes, please wait.” Still, no WiFi was available. This made me wonder if they do not want us to communicate?

Either way, I jumped right back to my exercise routine and walked outside on the pavement in the isolation area for an hour, then did some sit-ups, push-ups, squats and used the 1.5L Aqua bottles as weights.

6th January

On my morning walk, I met my neighbour who is a German national. He and his Indonesian friend also arrived in Jakarta via Emirates from Istanbul on 3rd January. They both tested negative in Turkey before their flight and had been together for the previous 10 days.

Upon arrival in Jakarta, they both had PCR tests and the German tested positive, while the Indonesian tested negative. It seems unlikely that they did not both test positive if they were next to each other for the previous 10 days.

The nurse visited me today and checked my temperature, oxygen levels, and blood pressure. All were normal and I continued to have no symptoms. Later that night, my office sent two rapid antigen tests so I could check my status. The test results were negative.

I was told that the doctor was supposed to visit me the next day. I planned on asking him to help me take another rapid antigen test to verify my test results. If the result came out negative, then I’d ask for a PCR test.

I also messaged the US Embassy representative and was told that he was dealing with several Americans at this isolation facility. He advised that many Americans contacted him complaining that they had no symptoms and believed – like me – that their PCR tests may have been falsely positive.

He advised me to be forewarned that all positive tests upon arrival were likely being sequenced and if my test was positive for Omicron, I would be required to begin a new round of isolation at a hospital.

The sequencing takes four or five days to get the results. This was very troubling.

I asked my good friend, who has one of Jakarta’s leading law offices, to contact the admin who said she can take no responsibility as she is not the decision-maker but will send the handphone number of the doctor in charge. As of midnight, she hadn’t given it to me.

Still no WiFi. I decided to spend another hour and a half exercising and read my book Secrets to Dominate your Market Niche.

7th January

Two medics came and conducted a PCR test at 9:30 am, which I requested and agreed to pay for. They informed me the results would be available that evening.

My lawyer advised that she is trying to get in touch with the doctor in charge of isolation and asked her legal team to see if there is a way to justify my early release if my PCR test comes back negative.

Still, no WiFi, despite my daily requests. Another 1.5 hours of exercise went by to stay fit today.

8th January

I have yet to receive the results of my PCR test, even after being promised that I would receive the results the previous evening. I assumed that I would test negative, but if I did test positive again, I would take another rapid antigen test to verify and ask my doctor to arrange for another PCR test for me today.

I sent a message to the admin to request the results of the PCR test. I was told that  I would receive the results during my next doctor visit, which is scheduled on my 10th day in isolation – still five days away!

This was the second time they tried to withhold test results from me. I pushed her for results and she did send me the SMART Lab result, which was negative.

I asked her to please allow me to be transferred to a quarantined hotel and she said no, not until 10 days in isolation had passed.

I informed the US Embassy about the matter and they told me to request another PCR test today to have a better case to push to let me go. So I did.

The nurse came at 10:30 am to administer the test, and again I was promised the results in the evening. It had occurred to me that staying in this isolation hotel could be dangerous to me; it was becoming more apparent that I may have had a false positive result when taking the PCR at the airport.

Then, I exercised for 1.5 hours to keep fit.

9th January

I messaged the admin and the health worker’s number. I was told that my second PCR test results would be given to me when the nurse visits.

I asked again and finally, they sent the PCR test results via WhatsApp as they did the day before – my result came out negative, again.

The General Manager of that company in charge of overseeing isolation later messaged me and asked if he could call. I agreed and spoke to him, expressing my concerns about staying in an isolation hotel, especially as I twice tested negative with PCR tests, two days in a row.

The General Manager basically scolded me for complaining, stating that he and his team were just following government regulations. He continued explaining how the army was in charge of the isolation and quarantine and that President Jokowi was the commander in chief and was being very strict to make sure that the Omicron variant would not spread in Indonesia.

I thanked him for explaining everything and our conversation turned polite, as he said he would help me the best he could, being on my side as a patient. He asked for my discretion, understanding, and respect for the rules and said that he would take care of me if there was anything that he can help me with.

My director from work nevertheless messaged me and said he would try and get me out. I told him that I had tested negative in my PCR test for the second time.

He asked for my passport, KITAS, air ticket, and two negative PCR tests so he could send them to immigration, the army, and the COVID-19 task force. He was pushing and hoped that I could get out tomorrow.

Again, I exercised again for 1.5 hours to keep fit.

10th January

My director messaged me that morning and advised me that it was proving difficult to get me released. He was not having success and advised that it was very complicated since more than one government department was in charge.

I asked the General Manager what time I could schedule my release so I could schedule transportation home and pick up my dogs. I needed to arrange my own transportation and check out is usually around noon but it depends on the clearance letter from the Health Ministry while put on as a priority.

I was missing my best friend’s birthday in Bali so I felt a bit lonely and sad that I was still stuck in isolation. I still exercised though.

11th January

The General Manager advised that my clearance will be released after my final PCR test, which must be negative, and he also told me that my first day in isolation was on 3rd January. Further, the PCR test would be conducted the next day and the result will be back on the same day.

He later clarified that the day after tomorrow is the schedule, which would be 13th January with the result and my release on the same day. I was very happy to hear that. I came to find out that he actually gave me misinformation again.

In the meantime, I heard that four or five guests were transferred today from this isolation hotel to a hospital because their positive PCR tests were confirmed to be the Omicron variant.

12th January

Again, I was very disappointed when I followed up on my PCR which was supposed to be tonight so the results would be ready in the morning. If negative, then I would be able to process my release with the Health Ministry and depart tomorrow.

I was told that there were new rules – 11 days and 10 nights, and now I must wait until tomorrow night – Thursday 13th January – to have my PCR and be released on Friday morning.

Again, I had received misinformation from the General Manager. His reply to me was only: “the PCR test is up to the doctor to conduct it and they follow the schedule as per regulation from the Health Ministry.”

His staff has scheduled the PCR tests before for me, so I believe this is not true. He could ask the doctor or nurse to schedule a PCR for me this evening so that I could be processed out tomorrow morning.

I asked both the US Embassy and my lawyer to contact the General Manager on my behalf and ask for a PCR tonight to be released tomorrow as per the regulations of 10-day isolation. I got no news from either in response to my request.

Furthermore, my German neighbour, who arrived the same day that I did, was just informed that he tested positive for the Omicron variant on his ninth day. The US Embassy has warned me about this potential scenario – that they were taking all the positive swab samples to a lab to check for Omicron.

I was told that anyone testing positive would be transferred to a hospital for another 10 days, or until they are negative.

13th January

It was the 11th day since I had tested positive at the airport upon arrival to Indonesia and my 10th day here at the isolation hotel. I had been told it was 10 days of isolation when I arrived. According to the nurse, I would have my PCR test between 8 and 10 pm that evening, and if negative, I would be released tomorrow morning between 11 am and 1 pm.

The admin sent me the hotel bill and it was Rp14,250,000. It’s not good value at all, and they justified such a high cost because of three doctor visits – there were actually only two – and seven nurse visits, but I only had six. All they did was check blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels.

I have decided to write a letter to the President of Indonesia. It will be polite and respectful but will have both questions and a summary of my experience.

I will also write a letter to the Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno, as he is supposed to be at an event that I will be attending in early February. My objective is for the Indonesian government to learn that it is not fair to be so rigid about rules, but better to be flexible based on each case, and how to improve isolation experiences.

Dear President Jokowi,

Please allow me to introduce myself as a US citizen who has lived, worked, and invested in Indonesia since arriving here in 1997, some 25 years ago.

I write to you to share my experience, not so much as to complain, but in the hopes that you and your government may accept my constructive criticism to learn and improve government policy as it affects your citizens and foreign visitors.

Please be assured that I both admire you as a President, and how you are handling the recent spread of the Omicron variant. The General Manager of a company, which was appointed to implement and oversee isolation policies and procedures, took the time to explain to me why you implemented such stringent rules to control the spread of Omicron, which again is admirable.

However, the government rules that were implemented left no room for input and revision, further discussion for improvement, or any right to appeal. You are aware that some studies have indicated that false-positive PCR tests are up to 20 percent based on how many days after being exposed your test is taken. Other studies say false PCR tests are less common at about 5 or 6 percent but false PCR tests do happen, and thus, travellers with no symptoms should be allowed to request another PCR test to verify the results and then be allowed for another test four or five days later (like the CDC in the USA) to check if they are still positive. If they are negative and test negative again the next day, then doctors will tell you that they are no longer contagious and should be allowed to get on with their lives – or at least be able to isolate or quarantine at home.

My experience has unfortunately left me with a bad feeling about the way the Indonesian government handled travellers that tested positive on their PCR tests, upon arriving in Indonesia. We were told that we must be “evacuated” to an isolation hotel for 10 days. Note that requests for a second PCR test to verify the first positive test were refused and in fact, isolation guests are supposed to wait for 10 days before another PCR test is available.

Next, I was “evacuated” by car to an isolation hotel – please note that we only had two choices of hotels for isolation – hotels in Pulomas and Cempaka Putih. I was sent to the one in Pulomas, which can be described as a “no-tell motel” or a hotel suitable for short-term by-the-hour rates. Honestly, quite shocking to be evacuated from a four-star hotel to a poor hotel property with no standard hotel amenities and food in a paper box. And please note that the isolation hotel charges Rp14 million for 10 days whereas the four-star hotel charges Rp11.5 million for 10 days. When I asked why it was so expensive, I was told it was because of the doctor (three-day visits) and nurse (seven-day visits.) They simply said hi, asked how we were feeling, took our temperature, oxygen level, and blood pressure then left. And sir, I had no symptoms and felt fine so I did not need a doctor or a nurse.

Sir, I realize that I am a visitor to your country and have to adhere to the rules of Indonesia. I love your country and the people and have enjoyed working and investing here since 1997 in both Jakarta and Bali. I have travelled to many regions in your beautiful country and have always been welcome. But for the first time in many years, I am contemplating moving back to Thailand where I spent five years from 1993 to 1997, or back to the USA. And I am not alone. Based on my experience and others who have been subject to similar rigid, uncompromising isolation experiences in poor hotel facilities, and friends who have heard our stories, Indonesia may lose some expatriates who work and/or invest here and truly love your country, which is a true shame.

I hope that you can improve the isolation experiences for unfortunate people like me, who may well have had a false positive test but were not allowed to have another test to verify my status until the fourth and fifth days when I tested negative. And this follows my antigen swab test on day three when I also tested negative.

Thank you,

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