[COVID-19 Special] Interview with H.E. Umar Hadi
1. How are you and your embassy handling this situation?
The Embassy of Indonesia had anticipated the Coronavirus outbreak in South Korea quite early. When the outbreak in Wuhan took place, we already calculated the risks to about 37 thousand Indonesian nationals living in South Korea given the geographical proximity, the number of travelers, and the industrial interlinkages between South Korea and Hubei Province in China. Thus, we had started our educational and information outreach to our nationals very early, through social media and telephone hotlines. Our message is simple “keep calm and stay alert”. We also work very closely with various Indonesian community organizations such as student associations, 63 Indonesian mosques, and 19 Indonesian Christian churches, as well as 15 designated community coordinators across South Korea.
We had also quickly established our working relations with the KCDC, whose officials we found very capable, professional, and helpful. They helped us with shaping our educational messages to our community.
As soon as the first COVID-19 patient in South Korea was confirmed on 20 January, 2020, followed by the “Orange alert” on 27 January, 2020, the Embassy established a special task force to focus on assisting our nationals with information, interpretation service, and provisions, should they need them. The task force also started invoking our established contingency plan that included gathering emergency provisions such as face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant spray.
We also started working on improving safety and security measures on our premises that include the Embassy complex and the Indonesian Investment Promotion Center (IIPC), both in Yeouido area, and the Indonesian Trade Promotion Center (ITPC) in Busan. We organized training sessions for our officials and staff members on how to manage emergency situations on our premises. This came to fruition when on Friday, 28 February, 2020, we had to temporarily close down the Embassy and the IIPC offices after receiving information from local authorities about a positive COVID-19 patient in the close vicinity. After reviewing the situation and conducting the sterilization process, we reopened the Embassy and the IIPC offices on Monday, 2 March, 2020.
We have also established temporary working hours and procedural guidelines that include, among others, working from home for the most vulnerable staff members, flexible working hours for staff members commuting via public transport, postponing crowd-gathering events, and cancelling non-essential travel.
When the Korean government announced Daegu city and Cheongdo county as special care zones on 21 February, 2020, followed by the “Red alert” on 23 February, 2020, the Embassy strengthened the special task force focusing on assisting the 1403 Indonesian nationals in Daegu and about 3000 Indonesian nationals in North Gyeongsang Province. Working with local authorities and the Indonesian communities, and using our in-house proprietary big data algorithm, we managed to map each and every Indonesian national residing in the most affected areas of Daegu city.
On 27 February, 2020, the Embassy established a liaison post in a safe zone about 53 km from Daegu’s city center. Working with local authorities, the LO post, staffed by six officials, provided immediate assistance to Indonesian nationals in Daegu and its neighboring regions. For example, during the face mask shortage, we managed to distribute face masks to Indonesian nationals in Daegu, as well as other cities across South Korea. Up to now, we have distributed about 160,000 face masks to our nationals. We have even called our nationals, one by one, in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, to check on their wellbeing.
Our team at the LO post carries out regular visits to factories with Indonesian workers, university campuses with Indonesian students, and small businesses with Indonesian owners; and provide them with necessary information and provisions. We rotate our team once every 14 days. The team that comes home to Seoul must undergo self-quarantine and work from home for 14 days.
In addition, every day, we also dispatch a mobile team to visit our nationals, mostly students, living in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province (where small clusters of cases are found), to check on their wellbeing and provide them with necessary information.
It is important to note that real-time and visual reports from the LO post and the mobile team have helped me significantly in assessing the situation on the ground, formulating the right policies and actions, and reporting to my bosses in Jakarta.
I believe that the Embassy has been able to provide this assistance to Indonesian nationals especially in the Daegu area because of the right policies put into place by the Korean government, especially the no-lockdown and information transparency policies. I admire the capability and steadfastness of the Korean health authorities and professionals. In this regard, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia has sent a letter of support and solidarity to Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. I have also written letters of sympathy and solidarity to the Mayor of Daegu city and the Governor of North Gyeongsang province. I am confident that Korea will emerge successful from this public health crisis and soon recover from its economic and social impacts.
2. How much impact has the Coronavirus outbreak had thus far in your home country?
Two sides. First, the Indonesian nationals in Korea. Most Indonesians living in South Korea are “E-9” migrant workers. The livelihood of their families in Indonesia are dependent on the wages they earn in South Korea. That is why the success of South Korea in addressing the spread of Coronavirus and helping the economy recover would mean a lot to thousands of families in Indonesia. That is also why the Embassy is doing its best to educate, assist, and protect them so that they can navigate this public health crisis safely.
Second, by the time South Korea starts to see positive results from its rigorous efforts, Indonesia is in the early stages of the public health crisis. The government of Indonesia has put into place policies and measures, learning from the experience of other countries, including South Korea, to mitigate and prevent the spread of Coronavirus. We have established an inter-agency special task force to accelerate containment, tracing, and tracking of suspected cases, and thus mitigate potential non-natural disaster situations. Given the geographical nature of Indonesia’s vast archipelago, the Government has given the authority to provincial and city governments to decide the scale and intensity of their respective responses.
3. What are the views/lessons learned from Asia (Public health? Societal? What worked? What didn’t?)
Perhaps it is too early to fully assess the lessons learned, as it is now a global pandemic crisis. While appreciating the fact that each country may have unique societal backgrounds, I believe there are universal values and principles that will serve the common good, such as information transparency and a scientific-based approach. I also believe that there should be concerted efforts at the global level, learning from past public health crises such as SARS and MERS, and of course COVID-19, to establish a new model of collaboration among countries that includes government, the private sector, academia, civil society, and the media.
I think viruses will continue to mutate. This is the new normal. We humans must adapt. Research, technology, and social solidarity are among the tools that we must continuously improve.
4. What types of initiatives are you planning to build with Korea when this crisis is over?
In the short term, we want to work together in two areas. First, sharing experiences and expertise on addressing the coronavirus public health crisis at both the policy and technical-medical levels. Second, collaborating on the recovery process, both on migrant workers issues and industrial supply chain link-ups. As a matter of priority, we are continuing our work in ensuring that major investment projects from South Korea, such as the construction of Lotte Chemicals’ plant and Hyundai’s factory in Indonesia, are safely and speedily implemented.
In the long term, I believe the special strategic partnership status between South Korea and Indonesia would gain even more impetus in, and serve as the foundation for, widening and deepening areas of cooperation for peace and prosperity.