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Indonesian authorities are cracking down on 'hotel quarantine mafia' scams reported by foreign tourists

ABC News - February 18, 2022

Natasya Salim and Erwin Renaldi – Indonesia's Tourism Ministry is cracking down on hotel quarantine scams allegedly perpetrated by organised groups, dubbed "quarantine mafia", against foreign tourists.

The alleged scam involves tourists being told at the end of their hotel quarantine period that their PCR test result is positive, so they are forced into an 'isolation hotel' where they pay for further accommodation.

An 'isolation hotel' only houses those tourists who have tested positive during quarantine.

The tourists, despite having no symptoms, were also not allowed to get a second test to confirm the positive result.

Indonesian authorities have since cracked down on the alleged scam by allowing travellers to get an independent second test.

Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno told the ABC that the Indonesian government had put in place new regulations and standards "to deal with the 'quarantine mafia' practices".

"The Ministry of Tourism... are investigating and will give heavy punishment to those who break the government's rules," he said.

Mr Uno's comments come after President Joko Widodo ordered the national police to investigate reports of cons in the quarantine system.

Police created a special team to handle allegations of that scam, perpetrated by organised or systematic groups connected to the hotels.

Twelve hotels occupied by 300 Indonesian citizens and 417 foreigners were investigated, police told local media.

The ABC contacted police to find out what the outcome of this investigation was but has not received a response.

"The national police will take a firm action towards everyone who is involved in the quarantine's foul play because their doing will damage the country's good image in the eyes of the world," police said in early February.

The Tourism Ministry said it received "many reports from foreigners who felt aggrieved by individuals who allegedly participate in 'quarantine mafia' activities".

One of the reports came from a Ukrainian woman who was asked by the hotel staff in Jakarta to stay longer and pay a higher rate, after receiving a positive result on her last day in quarantine, Minister Uno said.

"The hotel staff made an excuse that the PCR test result was positive," he told ABC.

"The ministry... helped the woman get another PCR test and the result came out negative, so she didn't have to extend her stay at the hotel."

The Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) has denied allegations of quarantine scams, saying foreigners' experiences might have been the product of "miscommunication".

"There is no such thing as so-called mafia in hotel quarantine," PHRI's quarantine hotel coordinator Vivi Herlambang told the ABC.

"You can try to find [the evidence] of this because we never found it," she said, adding the providers of hotel quarantine services have not breached any regulations.

Government introduces new regulations

The spokesperson for Indonesia's COVID-19 Task Force, Wiku Adisasmito, also denied the accusations of hotel quarantine scams, telling the ABC "the media shouldn't exaggerate issues without evidence".

At the same time, data from the task force published in early January showed that more than 2,700 people who tested negative for COVID when they arrived in Jakarta in January returned positive test results at the end of their seven or 10-day quarantine period.

The Indonesian government changed regulations in early February to allow tourists to get an independent second test, after allegations some test results were "fake positives" and resulted in tourists needing to extend and pay more for their hotel accommodation.

Canadian tourist Jade (not her real name) is one of the foreign travellers who disputed the positive test results she received in hotel quarantine.

Her first positive test came at the end of her 10-day quarantine period in Jakarta in January.

Jade told the ABC she was confused when she received the result of the test, done by the hotel nurse, because she felt healthy and had no symptoms.

"My positive test that came back had the wrong room number, wrong birthday, and some of the details were off," she said.

"I could be positive, but my boyfriend was negative. And we both had the two vaccines; I got the booster shot a few weeks before coming [and] I always wear a mask."

After requesting assistance from the Canadian embassy in Indonesia, she was finally able to get a second PCR test from the same hotel nurse, which again came back positive.

"So we were like, 'OK, it must actually be positive then'," she said.

"But... if it's the same person testing me and if they screwed it up the first time, would they not make sure that it comes back positive, so it doesn't look like they made the mistake?"

Jade completed 21 days in quarantine and isolation costing more than $2,000 and is now holidaying in Lombok.

Jade doesn't want to use her real name because she is scared she might face further immigration issues in Indonesia for speaking to the media.

A Canadian embassy spokesperson told the ABC they were "aware of reports of fraudulent COVID-19 test results issued in Indonesia".

"[We] are providing consular assistance to those affected," the spokesperson said.

Isolation hotels 'not conducive' for COVID patients

In addition to the allegations around testing scams, US citizen Matthew Joseph Martin took issue with the standard of accommodation and costs of hotel quarantine in Jakarta.

He and his son had returned from visiting his parents overseas.

Mr Martin, who lives in Bogor, Indonesia with his wife and three children, tested positive for COVID at the end of his quarantine stay in a hotel of his choice, and then was forced to move to an isolation hotel.

At that hotel, he said he was asked to sign a document that said he accepted all fees and charges of staying at an isolation hotel, but that the agreement didn't state the price of the stay.

He initially refused to sign, and said the hotel staff "threatened" him "with deportation", but he eventually relented after the costs were detailed in the agreement.

Mr Martin said he paid 17.6 million rupiah ($1,700) for a week for him and his son, but the condition of the room was far below his expectation, to the point he called the whole system "a scam".

"The hotel is very dirty. It's not sanitary. It's not conducive to a healthy, quick recovery from COVID," he said.

The ABC contacted the isolation hotel for comment but has not received a response.

Mr Martin sent "a very comprehensive email" detailing the hotel condition to the Tourism Minister, who approached Mr Martin after he posted a video on Instagram that went viral. The video highlighted the issues with his room including stained bed sheets and dirty floors.

At the time of publication, Mr Martin had not received a response.

Mr Uno said a helpdesk hotline, available in English and Bahasa, would soon be available for travellers in hotel quarantine to report any issues.

"The helpdesk will provide information about the newest regulation information about the quarantine," Mr Uno said.

Direct flights between Australia and Bali to resume

Concerns about hotel quarantine come as Indonesia opens Bali to all foreign tourists, including Australians, who have had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

This week, Bali's government announced the first direct flight from Australia in almost two years, by Garuda Airlines from Sydney on March 4.

Governor Wayan Koster said he also hoped to scrap hotel quarantine requirements for tourists by March.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths reported in Indonesia as the Omicron variant takes hold has increased over the past several weeks.

The country recorded its highest daily case number of COVID this week, with more than 50,000 cases reported in one day.

Indonesia is also still trying to hit its vaccination targets.

More than 90 per cent of the population have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

But less than 70 per cent have received the second dose – a target that was meant to have been reached at the end of last year.

Epidemiologist Masdalina Pane attributed the slow uptake to the country's massive population of about 270 million.

Despite that, she said Indonesia was still keeping up with the vaccination rates of other countries and it was still safe for foreigners to visit.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-18/foreign-tourists-report-hotel-quarantine-scams-in-indonesia/10081509