Australia withdraws ambassador to Indonesia because of COVID-19 fears

11-Apr-2020 Intellasia | TheAge | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The Australian government has taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing its top diplomatic envoy to Jakarta because of the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Gary Quinlan, 69, has served as Ambassador to Indonesia for a little more than two years and has enjoyed a more than 40-year career in the diplomatic service, including stints as ambassador to Singapore and to the United Nations.

He will leave Jakarta on Saturday after being ordered home as a precautionary measure and will remain ambassador, working remotely.

The decision comes more than six weeks after the embassy imposed strict working from home measures to protect against the spread of the disease and began sending staff back to Australia.

Indonesia has now recorded 280 deaths from the coronavirus and 3293 infections.

The death toll is the highest in south-east Asia but the number of infections is relatively low, reflecting the low number of tests that have been conducted and the standard of the country’s health-care system.

Australia’s embassy in Jakartaour single largest embassyand consulates in Bali, Surabaya and Makassar will retain a skeleton staff.

About two-thirds of the 180 Australians who are part of the embassy’s staff across the four posts, the vast majority of whom are in Jakarta, have now left the country. Hundreds of local staff are also working from home.

Quinlan’s deputy Allaster Cox will remain in country. The Department of Foreign Affairs staff who remain, as well as those working remotely in Australia, will continue to work to assist Australians looking to leave the country and on other crucial jobs such as counter-terrorism, crime, economic and cyber security cooperation.

It is expected that evacuation flights will need to take place in the coming weeks.

There are about 3000 Australian visitors and tourists still in Indonesia and about 7000 permanent residents. The number of tourists visiting the countryusually about 100,000 people per month, and the vast majority of whom visit Balihas flat-lined.

It is rare for an ambassador to leave his or her post for any reason but Indonesia’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been poor.

The national government has emphasized protecting the country’s economy, including millions of day labourers and the important tourism sector.

Health minister Terawan Agus Putranto, a medical doctor, claimed several times that the power of prayer had kept the country country coronavirus-free. He has since been sidelined.

President Joko Widodo has admitted to withholding information about the spread of the virus because he did not want the country’s citizens to panic.


Category: Indonesia

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