COVID-19 IN TIMOR-LESTE: REALITIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Medical team examine a suspect of Covid-19 Medical team examine a suspect of Covid-19 Photo Suplai

By Jose Belo 

Tempo Timor (Dili) - The purpose of this write up is NOT to cause any fear. It is to combat unnecessary fear but at the same time outline how we can all act responsibly together as citizens and foreigners in Timor-Leste to minimize the negative impacts of Covid-19 in Timor-Leste.

Realities:

1. To act responsibly, we need to be very clear about the reality of the situation in Timor-Leste.

2. Timor-Leste has NO DOCUMENTED case of Covid-19. We must ask ourselves, is there a possibility that Covid-19 is in TL but remains undetected, unreported and undocumented?

3. All the surrounding countries and countries that have air connections to Timor-Leste have cases of Covid-19. Timor-Leste’s closest neighbor, Indonesia is seeing an increasing number of cases and that will likely continue. Of course, Indonesia is very different from Timor-Leste in terms of population and connectivity to the world.

4. To date, only 5 people have been tested for Covid-19 in TL. So, having no documented cases should not give anyone any solid assurances that Covid-19 is not present in TL.

5. A wise assumption would be to accept that it is possible that Covid-19 could be in TL but remains undocumented. This is a very important assumption as it will help us all think clearly when it comes to responsibilities.

6. Is it possible that Timor-Leste will end up having ZERO cases of Covid-19 after everything is over? The answer is YES. TL was spared from SARS, MERS, H1N1 etc. Can it be spared from Covid-19 entirely? YES. Being a country that is isolated in terms of connectivity could work out in TL’s favor.

7. People with COVID-19 can remain asymptomatic or mostly with mild flu like symptoms. The majority who die are the elderly. We must accept that the young and healthy could be unknowingly transmitting COVID-19 to the elderly population through social interactions. This is where social responsibility comes in.

8. The healthcare system in Timor-Leste is unable to deal with a Covid-19 outbreak. Countries with much better healthcare facilities have been unable to cope once Covid-19. So let’s be clear about it; if there is an outbreak, Timor-Leste’s healthcare system will be unable to cope with it.

9. Major increase in numbers within any country have mostly come from big social gatherings e.g. religious gatherings. Bear in mind, these are all WELL-MEANING people with good intentions. None of them were there with the malicious intent of spreading Covid-19.

10. What can we learn from point 9? Having big social gatherings albeit with good intentions doesn’t stop Covid-19. It could actually be the focal point which launches Covid-19 into the larger community.

11. Timor-Leste is different from the surrounding countries in the sense that contactless transactions are still very uncommon. Timor-Leste’s buying and selling is largely based on cash transactions. This is important to understand in terms of being prepared should there be a lockdown.

12. In view of the realities, the best-case scenario is that Timor-Leste will eventually have zero cases of Covid-19. That is still possible. The economic impact is beyond our control due to globalization. But we can minimize the health impact. The worst-case scenario is hard to predict because it is unlikely that mass testing will ever be possible in Timor-Leste. Understanding both ends the spectrum, we need to reach some common ground in terms of social responsibility.

 

Responsibilities:

1. It is better to be cautious and responsible rather than presumptuous and reckless in our approach to this matter. The entire country needs to work together to create the best-case scenario.

2. In terms of social responsibility, I suggest that it’s better to exercise more caution rather than not. Here’s the best way to think about it: “TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF BIG SOCIAL GATHERINGS”. First, everyone must know its TEMPORARY. Second, everyone must understand its only a SUSPENSION. This is very important as when people understand its only a temporal suspension, it’s more likely people will cooperate. 

3. What should be temporarily suspended? We can learn from other countries. Religious gatherings, non-essential businesses, schools, conferences etc.

4. How long should the temporary suspension be for? It depends largely on the situation in Indonesia. Why so? Indonesia remains as the most likely gateway of entry of Covid-19 to TL. If the Government of Timor-Leste makes the decision to close the borders with Indonesia, then this gateway of entry can be controlled. As such, once Covid-19 tapers in Indonesia and social life goes back to normal in Indonesia, then Timor-Leste can follow suit.

5. Foreigners who are fearful should consider leaving the country because of the lack of facilities. Leave before it gets even harder to travel. Easiest gateway of exit is SINGAPORE.

- Indonesia imposes the requirement for a health cert now.

- Australia imposes a 14-day quarantine

6. Foreigners who choose to stay or have no other choice; please DON’T COMPLAIN about the lack of medical facilities or preparedness. Complaining doesn’t help a single thing. Complaining will NOT change the situation at this point of time. What can you do? STAY HEALTHY. Get some SUN. Eat healthy. Rest adequately. Exercise when possible. Frequent hand washing etc. BE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE.

7. Be prepared without causing panic. The Government of TL has already assured that there is enough food in the country to last at least 4 months. So don’t spark a panic by panic buying.

8. Back to the point that Timor-Leste transactions are mostly cash based, withdraw enough cash to buy food for 3 weeks or so. Banks could be closed together with schools and churches in a temporary lockdown. Don’t cause a bank run please! Banks will not close permanently and you will not lose all your money. It’s just a matter of practicality to hold some cash for essential purchases.

9. As in all countries who have executed lockdowns, food supplies will remain available for purchase. Supermarkets and grocery shops will remain open

10. Don’t wait for the Government to impose limits on social gatherings. If you are the decision maker, MAKE THE DECISION FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION. Governments are big machineries and it takes time for them to make decisions.

11. Don’t travel unnecessarily. Remember, if you are healthy and asymptomatic, there always is that possibility that you are a carrier of Covid-19 and you might unknowingly affect some people who might be negatively impacted.

12. Pray without ceasing for the mercies of God at such times as this.

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Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2020 09:28
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