When the pandemic hit Bali last year, Australian Charlie Knoles and his family were in no position to leave, despite grim warnings from the Australian government.
- Thousands of Australians are living and working in Indonesia
- The country is the world’s new coronavirus epicentre
- DFAT says it’s looking at ways to assist Australians stuck in Indonesia
He and his wife Liddy Arens were among the first people on the resort island to catch COVID-19 in 2020, which meant both were too sick to travel.
The situation on Bali was also relatively stable compared to the rest of the nation.
For more than a year, the island managed to avoid the high infection rates seen in the capital Jakarta and on Java.
But as the deadly Delta variant now spreads like wildfire across Indonesia, the Australian couple is desperate to protect their three young children from infection, one of whom suffers from asthma.
They are now prepared to abandon their home of five years, and walk away from their jobs and the children’s schooling, just to get out and return to Australia.
They have already sent their oldest child to the US where it is safer.
“We’re really concerned because our son’s quite delicate,” said Ms Arens.
“It would be too much for his system to get the Delta variant.”
But like thousands more Australians living and working in Indonesia, Charlie Knoles and his family have found themselves stranded, unable to fly home.
Australians fork out thousands for a private flight
The national carrier Garuda has cancelled most of its flights to Australia. Singapore and many other countries have now banned anyone transiting from Indonesia.
“There are no flights available, you actually can’t buy a ticket,” Mr Knoles said.
With commercial flights to Australia now almost non-existent, a group of Australian expats recently joined forces to book a charter flight from Bali to Perth.
At least 100 Australians registered their interest.
But strict federal government caps on the number of Australians allowed back into the country meant only 25 people could board the Indojet 737, making the flight too costly for most to afford.
Only yesterday, a charter plane scheduled for mid-August was cancelled.
“It got priced out to the point where it’s about $US7,000 per person now to get on that plane,” Mr Knoles said.
“For a family of five people, we can’t pay $US35,000 for a one-way flight to Perth from Bali.”
The situation on Bali grows desperate
Coronavirus infections in Bali have surged to record levels this month, with more than 1,000 new cases a day and on some days, more than 30 deaths.
The ABC understands dozens of Australians living on the island have fallen ill with COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Officials confirm at least two of those Australians have died.
One woman, who wants to be known only as Chrissy, is among several Australians who went to hospital with a severe case of COVID-19.
She spent six days on a ventilator after falling ill last month.
Her husband was working outside the country, leaving her two small children in the care of others.
Their five-year-old son tested positive for the virus two days after she was taken to hospital.
“I was terrified. I’ve never been this sick in my life,” she said.
“My biggest fear was just not knowing how my son was, and not being able to see him and care for him and make sure he was okay. But I just didn’t have it in me, I couldn’t get up.”
Australians ask for help from home
Many Australians in Indonesia have expressed anger that the federal government has so far not stepped in to help them by sending repatriation flights to Indonesia.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Australians stuck in India were rescued on mercy flights as the nation’s outbreak spun out of control.
“It’s incredibly concerning to live here,” said Jack Brazel, who moved to Jakarta in 2018 as a sales manager in the education sector.
“There’s a lack of vaccine access for foreigners in Indonesia, because they’re obviously prioritising their own people.
Mr Brazel said he recently contacted the Australian embassy in Jakarta seeking assistance to return home.
But all they offered him was a phone number for a local travel agent.
“If this is the limits of the embassy’s capacity, I think we should question what value do consular services provide to Australia,” he said.
Stephanie Fotheringham, who moved to Jakarta in 2019, questions why the federal government cannot supply vaccines for Australian expats, who are not eligible for a jab in Indonesia.
She believes that might reduce the risk to the Australian community when expats arrive home and go into quarantine.
“The whole embassy gets AstraZeneca, yet if you’re Australian here and you’re not part of the embassy, it’s tough luck,” she said.
Other Australians point to countries, such as France, which has supplied vaccinations to its citizens in Indonesia.
“There’s been no assistance in getting vaccines to protect us if we can’t get home,” Mr Brazel said.
“The kick in the guts for all Australians was that they donated 2.5 million vaccines [to Indonesia], but they couldn’t negotiate anything for stranded Australians.”
Indonesia is the world’s new viral epicentre
With 3.2 million total infections and almost 87,000 deaths, Indonesia is struggling to vaccinate its own population.
Barely 7 per cent of its 270 million people have had two doses, a long way from the 181 million it needs to vaccinate to reach herd immunity.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) said Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program does not cover Australian citizens overseas.
“We encourage Australians overseas to consult their local health professional for advice on vaccine options, including assistance that may be available locally,” DFAT said in a statement.
The department told the ABC it was now looking at ways to assist registered Australians in Indonesia trying to return home.
“The government has facilitated 153 flights on which more than 22,900 Australians have returned,” DFAT said.
“We have provided various types of assistance to many more Australians, including to return via commercial means.”
More than 640,000 Australians from around the world have returned home since March last year.