Readers' Submissions

Lock Down Indonesia Versus Thailand

  • Written by Arnoud
  • April 7th, 2020
  • 4 min read


Difficult times ahead. Businesses are struggling, schools been closed and NHS staff working overtime in order to save people’s lives. It seems the coronavirus is everywhere. In this submission I like to tell you about the current situation in Indonesia and compare it with Thailand.

I have lived and worked in Indonesia for more than 6 years now. Since 3 weeks ago, all schools are closed so I am forced to work from home. Laptop on the sofa, mug of coffee in hand, I turn on the first Zoom session every morning at 7.30. So far nothing new: this is happening in so many countries. My home country (Netherlands), Thailand and Indonesia are all suffering from this Corona crisis.

The Indonesian authorities closed down the country for foreigners, starting March 20. No tourists are allowed to enter. Long term residents like me can stay and renew papers without problems. Normally Indonesia is a very centralised country so all major decisions are made in Jakarta. However, cities and regencies have some options.

Surabaya City Council has decided to close down the city at several entry-points and the few still open are used to check people’s temperatures. Only people with a Surabaya licence plate are allowed to enter the city. However, Indonesia is Indonesia. I mean strict laws in theory, but flexible in practice. Some entry points are closed and some are still open.

As of 6 April, only grocery stores open, the rest are closed. Streets are quiet. The big shopping malls are still open. At the front gate customer’s temperature are measured by using laser thermometer. People are strongly advised to stay at home but there is no enforced lock-down yet. There are some restrictions for travelling within the country. On the ferry between Java and Bali passports or ID cards must be shown and only allowed for Indonesians and people with a long stay permit. More and more people are wearing masks.

One of the big issues now is what to do with religious events. The eastern part of Indonesia is predominantly Christian. Almost all churches are closed and services are performed in a digital way. On Hindu majority Bali streets have to be empty during Nyepi so that’s works well with the Corona situation; In fact it is a forced lock-down which is held every year!

However, the biggest religion in Indonesia is Islam. The Muslims are divided. The biggest Muslim organisation called NU (with more than 100 million members) strongly advises to close down all mosques even during all important Fridays. Some mosques are closed but many are still open for prayer gatherings. All believers have to bring their own carpet and pray at least 1.5 metres from each other.

The government has not decided about compensation for people travelling to Saudi Arabia. That country has closed borders for religious travel. I hear less sound of mosques for calling to prayer so it seems some mosques are already closed.

There is another difference I want to discuss. Police. In Indonesia there is a big difference between Bali and the rest of the country. I have visited all major islands so I can compare. Bali is like Bangkok. The men in brown are keen to stop bule (farang) in order to get some money. Driving without a driving licence or no helmet or whatever. Maybe it has to do with the amount of tourists or the Balinese attitude in general which I will not further discuss in this submission. In the rest of Indonesia, police are also keen to stop people in order to get money. However, foreigners are almost never stopped. One reason is local police cops outside Bali do not speak English. In general policemen are very kind to me and several times they helped me to cross the street.

The big test-case will me the “mudik” next month. Mudik means the big home travelling to home towns at Idul Fitri (compare with Chinese New Year) with overcrowded railway stations and bus terminals. The government decided it would hurt the economy too much to close down the roads. This will be a serious risk. The president Jokowi had plans to postpone mudik to August or September but decided after taking advise not to do. Indonesia is a country of more than 260 million people so one can imagine the overcrowded roads, bus terminals, airports and railway stations.

The role of the government here is more an advisory one. I have an WhatsApp group called “covid radar”.  It is made by the province of East Java and it shows on maps how many people contracted corona, how many died and how many already recovered. It also gives advice of what to do and what not to do.

One can see the differences between Thailand and Indonesia are not very big, but the immigration seems to be more flexible here. Both tourists and long stay permit holders can renew their visa quite easily. More importantly: they can extend it for free! So tourists who are stuck here don’t have issues in extending their stay without extra cost. This is new and temporary because normally a tourist visa cannot be extended. Like in Thailand and in other countries, “Corona” is the talk of the day. People take it seriously, but in a relaxed way. Every day I got WhatsApp’s with funny movies about corona. The latest one is “an interview with Mr Corona” in which ” Corona” tells what he / she likes and not. So it is used as an advice like “I hate people to stay at home because I cannot infect them!

So in general, in Indonesia the attitude is more relaxed than in Thailand. The government is active but more in an advisory role than an enforcing one.

The author can be contacted at : [email protected]