A New Zealand family in Indonesia can finally come home after a five-month battle to get the Covid-19 vaccine, jumping one bureaucratic hoop after another in a pandemic and rapidly changing international travel rules.
Julie Forman’s family of four are heading home to New Zealand on Sunday after seven years in Medan.
“It’s exciting but we’ve already been here twice before and not made it out,”the Palmerston North school teacher said.
“Hopefully our Covid tests will be clear, we’ll get to the airport okay, lots of steps.”
Forman, her husband and two teenage children were all packed and had MIQ booked for their return in July when a Covid test unravelled their plans.
Their son Arif’s pre-departure test had come back positive just as Indonesia was fighting a devastating second wave of Covid infections. Many countries including their transit point Singapore moved swiftly to ban travellers.
Domestic travel rules changed with Indonesia, requiring travellers to show proof of vaccination to enter airports and get on a flight, she said.
Official advice on national carrier Garuda Indonesia’s website said unvaccinated foreigners leaving the country could get an exemption, but Forman said she could not find a way to get that exemption in Medan, far away from the capital Jakarta and even resort island Bali that have significant foreigner numbers.
New Zealand does not require citizens to be vaccinated to enter the country, but unvaccinated citizens have to go through quarantine.
Forman and her husband Deni had their doses earlier this year, but not their two teenage children. They were foreigners and did not have the Indonesian identification numbers or NIK required for a vaccine certificate, she said.
She sent countless emails to the New Zealand Embassy in Jakarta asking for information and advice, but did not get the answers they needed.
They spent three months battling bureaucracy, including getting the couple’s marriage certificate from New Zealand translated and sent to the right Indonesian authorities to prove they were a family unit so the children could be issued the paper work to get their Indonesian ID numbers.
Arif and his sister Anya finally got their first jabs in November, and the family are now waiting to fly out on December 5.
Forman said it was hard to hear about New Zealanders refusing the vaccine when they were struggling to get it for their children.
The vaccine is free in Indonesia but access remains a challenge for different reasons. Forman’s Indonesian national husband took three or four days to get the jab.
“He went, and there were thousands of people queuing. You wait and stand in the hot sun for hours, and get told the vaccines are finished, and there’re still 50 or 60 people in front of him waiting. That happened several days in a row.”
A neighbour’s relative, who was a nurse at the hospital, helped. There were extra vaccines left over after a company booking, and she quickly called Deni in.
Indonesia made inoculations mandatory in February, warning that people who refused could be fined and denied social assistance or government services.
“Here there’s no social security, you get no money if you lose your jobs, so people wouldn’t make that choice,” Forman said.
“A lot of people around the world don’t have a choice.”
She knows people who feel strongly about the vaccine but believes the pandemic has put people’s choices and rights on the back seat.
“The good of the country, the whole world, has to take precedence over people’s individual rights.
“Covid doesn’t care about people’s individual rights.”
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