Facing COVID-19 Presence in Timor-Leste

Vitalia Ze
4 min readApr 20, 2020


Photo: Crowd Gathering at the Stadium in Dili, 2015 (Private collection)

I firstly heard about Corona virus in late January this year from the newsletter, social media and from the briefing at my workplace. The virus outbreak firstly discovered in Wuhan, a city in Hubei province and caused thousands of death in weeks. The Chinese government then applied a strict lock-down to the citizens to limit their movement and to prevent more outbreaks. Then many speculations appeared online that the virus is caused by consumption of exotic animals available in wet market in Wuhan. This speculation is then reinforced with a viral video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup at a restaurant with gusto. I myself have never tasted bat meat and I did not want to either but I did feel a cringe in my stomach when seeing the video.

As there have been several times virus outbreaks happened in China and the outbreaks rarely reach Timor-Leste, I thought it is no need to worry too much on this virus. Timor-Leste, my country, has a 1,3 million of population and localized between Indonesia and Australia and is quite isolated from the visitors. At least, that was what I thought that the virus may never reached to this country for its isolation-like position. However, by February, the virus continue to spread to other countries in Asia and Europe and that was where I realized that the virus will eventually reach to my country as well. My main concern was how my country prepare to face the presence of the virus outbreak and yet there was no serious discussion yet about it until early March where an Italian citizen identified to be a suspect of corona virus and Ministry had to evacuate the person to Tibar health center (Liquica) but got rejected by the local community and then the ministry had to return the suspect to Stampford Clinic in Dili. There was also another protesting by the locals in Dili to the clinic and complained addressed to Government to not having a well preparation on the issue.

By end of March, Timor-Leste confirmed its first positive case and the following week, upon getting approval from the national parliament, government applied lock-down during 30 days starting from 29 March to 30 April and suspend many public services activity such as schools and offices except grocery and other essential business. Few days before the lock-down officially applied, thousands of students Dili were in rush and crowded the buses in order to return to their hometown in the municipalities out of Dili city despite warning that they should stay home. The reason for these students to return are more about food security as living in Dili would not allow them to secure the food and other basic needs as they are sustained by money send from family in the municipalities. Dili city became quiet and movement are restricted. Many public places closed. Providing water and soap for hand washing become mandatory for every person, family, household and every shop. People then required to wear masks whenever going out, public transport not allowed to operate. Physical and social distance enforced and even church also suspend the mass ceremonies that surprised many Catholics in the country as during crisis in 1999, the church never suspended its activities.

The virus is a new crisis and the lock-down and social distancing as a way to prevent and face it however become a drastic change affecting aspect of community’s life. No more gathering at pubic places or at home, hangout at the streets or public places, no more physical contacts (shaking hands, hug or kissing cheeks)to friends, family or strangers, no more visiting to neighbor or relatives house. But the worse is for small business operation run by local vendors that normally relies to public movement activity such as street vendors, home vegetables sellers, second-hand clothing-sale, etc as they have suspend their business for quiet a while and thus will get no income to sustain their families. Things that normally people do as a social human being and hustler now has to stop for a while.

At my workplace, the updates on Corona Virus started to became frequents, I then re-shared the information to families, neighbors and friends to maintain the prevention measures. Unfortunately, most of the response from them is ‘why should we afraid of something we could not see?’ and again I have to find simple terms and ways to explain how the virus spread and how it affect our health.

Until recently, Timor-Leste has confirmed 19 positive cases of COVID-19 with hundreds of suspects being quarantines. Many people are concerned and there occurred some misunderstanding about the quarantine procedures, suspect and confirmed positive status that lead to harassment. The Ministry of Health, however, is working hard to continue control the flow of arrival of Timorese citizen from abroad to quarantine them while at same time enforce the socialization of the prevention of COVID-19. This is an unusual situation, unusual crisis, however, as optimist we should be as human being, I could only hope that this too shall pass soon.