Southeast Sulawesi Police Chief Brig. Gen. Merdisyam speaks in a news conference on the arrivals of 49 Chinese citizens in Kendari on Tuesday. (Antara Photo/Jojon)

Immigration Allows Entry of 49 Chinese Workers Despite Ban

BY :HERU ANDRIYANTO, JAYANTY NADA SHOFA

MARCH 17, 2020

Jakarta. Government officials in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi province got panicked when 49 Chinese citizens arrived on Sunday despite government’s recent ban on arrivals from coronavirus-hit countries, most notably China.

The central government has imposed temporary entry ban on Chinese passport holders to prevent the spread of coronavirus since early February. The ban remains in place and has now covered more countries including South Korea, Iran, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland and the U.K.

The Immigration Directorate clarified on Tuesday that the 49 Chinese citizens were granted 60-day visas by the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing and already spent two weeks under quarantine in Thailand from Feb. 29, prior to their arrival at the Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Tangerang, Banten.

The Thai government issued health certificates to prove that they were free from the virus on Saturday, and all the documents had been verified by the Indonesian representatives in Bangkok, immigration spokesman Arvin Gumilang said in a statement.

“It’s true that the Chinese citizens left Thailand on March 15, 2020, based on the Thai immigration stamps on their passports,” Arvin said.

Upon their arrival at the Soekarno-Hatta Airport, they underwent medical screening for Covid-19 symptoms and filled in the mandatory Health Alert Card (HAC) - which questioned the visitor's travel history - by the Airport Health Office. The immigration granted entry based on recommendation letter from the health office, Arvin said.

The Chinese then continued their trip to the Haluoleo Airport in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, on a Garuda Indonesia plane at around 8.00 p.m., he said. 

“They arrived in Indonesia as foreign workers to take their working ability tests," Arvin said.

“Of Course I’m Worried”

Their arrival in Kendari stirred outrage after an amateur video circulated on social media platforms with a narration “corona has come”.

Southeast Sulawesi Governor Ali Mazi said he immediately sent provincial medical staffs to observe the Chinese before dawn on Monday, after realizing that they just landed in Indonesia, not long-time visitors who have been staying on extended visas since before the ban was issued.

“Of course I’m worried. They just arrived from China,” Ali told Jakarta-based news website Kompas. 

“I immediately deployed staffs from the Southeast Sulawesi health department and Bahteramas Hospital. I ordered them to check at 4.00 a.m.,” he said.

A man who uploaded the video was arrested for inciting hatred but was immediately released amid confusion in the provincial police.

Southeast Sulawesi Police Chief Brig. Gen. Merdisyam initially said the Chinese have been in the province for long as workers of local mining company Virtue Dragon Nickel Industry in Morosi, Konawe district, and returned from Jakarta after extending their visas.

On Tuesday, he apologized for the mistake and admitted they were new recruits by the company who just arrived in Indonesia.

“I, as Southeast Sulawesi police chief, would like to extend my sincere apology,” Merdisyam said in a televised news conference at his office.

He said he received report from Haluoleo Airport authorities that 49 Chinese citizens had arrived with proper documents and health statements. Their employer claimed that the Chinese have been staying in the province before the Covid-19 outbreak, leading to the mistaken statement, the officer said.

People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Bambang Soesatyo criticized the government for letting their guard down in the case.

Bambang urged the government to take more serious actions to restrict international arrivals.

"The Covid-19 specialized team needs to immediately go to the Virtue Dragon Nickel Industry - where these immigrants are employed - for further checking and isolation. We hope the government treat them equally without any special treatment and terminate their HAC considering the current situation," Bambang said in a statement.

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