Coronavirus: South-East Asia

Bali in second lockdown misery just as reopening was in sight

Ms Diaz at Watercress restaurant. Before the second lockdown, the bistro had seen a partial recovery. Ms Wayan Sumiati at Devira Massage. Clientele has thinned out dramatically and she is unsure how she can afford to renew the lease. An empty street
An empty street and shuttered seaside restaurants. Bali’s second lockdown went into effect on Saturday. ST PHOTOS: JEFFREY HUTTON
Ms Diaz at Watercress restaurant. Before the second lockdown, the bistro had seen a partial recovery. Ms Wayan Sumiati at Devira Massage. Clientele has thinned out dramatically and she is unsure how she can afford to renew the lease. An empty street
Ms Diaz at Watercress restaurant. Before the second lockdown, the bistro had seen a partial recovery.
Ms Diaz at Watercress restaurant. Before the second lockdown, the bistro had seen a partial recovery. Ms Wayan Sumiati at Devira Massage. Clientele has thinned out dramatically and she is unsure how she can afford to renew the lease. An empty street
Ms Wayan Sumiati at Devira Massage. Clientele has thinned out dramatically and she is unsure how she can afford to renew the lease.

Before Bali entered its second lockdown of the pandemic this month, Ms Diaz, 32, floor manager at Watercress cafe, was just about muddling through. On a normal day last month, her restaurant, on the main thoroughfare between Canggu and Seminyak, would chalk up sales to a largely foreign clientele of about 140 people either dining in or getting delivery.

While that was a fraction of what the bistro would normally do this time of year, it was enough to schedule 20 to 30 staff. But on a recent weekday, she had just nine, and the frustration of 15 months of on-again, off-again shutdowns was beginning to show.

"It's so depressing," Ms Diaz, who gave only her nickname, told The Straits Times. "Things were just starting to get better."

Thanks to an ambitious vaccination programme, where roughly 70 per cent of the island's adults have at least been partially vaccinated against Covid-19, Bali seemed to be on the path to reopening.

An uptick of domestic tourism and initiatives to work from the holiday island had yielded a small but steady recovery relative to the dark days this time last year.

On the last Friday of June, the island notched up more than 60 aircraft arrivals compared with just four in the same period a year earlier, according to airport data.

A check of resorts in Seminyak and Uluwatu revealed that occupancy rates in some cases averaged roughly 75 per cent last month. Occupancy across the island averaged 20 per cent in the same period, said the Bali Hotel Association.

As recently as last month, Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said plans to host small groups of foreign holidaymakers in designated locations were near completion. Plans were even in the works to offer a "vaccination tourism programme" where foreign tourists could get doses of vaccine - for a fee - during their stay.

But since the July 2 lockdown, which expanded nearly nationwide yesterday as new cases and deaths surged, occupancy has halved in these same hotels, as travellers scrambled to get home.

The number of new cases passed 31,000 on Tuesday. Officials have warned that daily cases may reach 50,000. At 728, the number of daily deaths from Covid-19 is seven times that less than a month ago.

"This is a very difficult time for everyone," said Mr Ricky Putra, general manager at Six Senses resort in Uluwatu, where occupancy has dropped by more than half to 10 per cent this week.

Mr Sandiaga told reporters on Monday that plans to reopen to foreign tourism are "still continuing" but a decision to proceed will hinge on suppressing local daily cases to below 100 with some 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the island's roughly four million people fully vaccinated. "The work-from-Bali activity, vaccine tourism in Bali has been temporarily postponed," he said in a media briefing over Zoom.

At stake is the prospect of reviving billions of tourism dollars. In 2019, the island raked in US$18 billion (S$24.3 billion) in spending, with US$8 billion coming from overseas visitors who tend to spend more than Indonesians.

Frustration is bubbling over on suspicion that Indonesia's spike in cases followed lacklustre efforts to curb the yearly exodus out of Indonesia's cities to home villages and then back again at the end of post-Ramadan Aidilfitri holidays.

"Most people here feel the government could have done more to shut down movement during Idul Fitri," said Mr Blake Johnson, founder of the popular Coffee Cartel cafes in Seminyak and Canggu.

At Devira Massage, Ms Wayan Sumiati, 43, who has leased the thatched roof spa behind Watercress for 15 years, does not know how her family will pay the fees the owner will demand when it is time to renew their contract.

Before the pandemic hit, she had a dozen therapists catering to 15 to 20 clients a day. Now there is one therapist and the spa can go as long as four days without a client.

"I pray to God that there will be more tourists," she said.

Meanwhile, tattoo artist Gede Prima, 45, with his parlour long since shuttered, has been receiving money from some of his extensive Australian clientele. "If it wasn't for my Aussie clients, I would lose my home," Mr Gede told ST. "I just want Covid to end so I can have my Aussies back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2021, with the headline 'Bali in second lockdown misery just as reopening was in sight'. Subscribe