Indonesia's tourism hot spot Bali island will reopen to domestic tourists tomorrow, but under a host of strict protocols that include visitors showing proof they tested negative for Covid-19.
The announcement comes as the province tries to revive its badly-hit economy even as new infections continue to rise.
Mr I. Putu Astawa, head of Bali's tourism agency, told The Straits Times that care has been taken as the province seeks to strike a balance between its economic and health interests.
"The most important thing is to prevent the reopening from creating a new epicentre of transmission, so this is a very tough decision to make," he said.
He added that the situation on the island is "under control", citing the recovery rate of around 75 per cent among Covid-19 patients.
Yesterday, the province saw 61 fresh cases, bringing total infections to 3,310, with deaths remaining at 48, the figure since July 23.
Apart from needing to present antibody test results showing no Covid-19 infection, visitors will also have to observe "strict health protocols", such as safe distancing, temperature-taking and mask-wearing.
Mr Putu said tourism sites must operate at below full capacity and its workers may have to put on additional protective equipment such as face shields and gloves.
The occupancy rate of hotels in Bali nosedived to 2.07 per cent in May, from 51.56 per cent in the same month last year and 62.55 per cent in December before the outbreak.
The resort island which closed tourism sites in late March has gradually reopened them since July 9 for Bali residents.
It has set a goal of welcoming foreign tourists on Sept 11, but Mr Putu said this is still "subject to approval from the national government".
Experts have criticised the move by Indonesia to ease social restrictions. They said the premature lifting of a partial lockdown in some regions last month had already caused cases to climb and predict this will last until at least September without stronger intervention.
Nationwide, the overall number of cases totalled 104,432, while deaths reached 4,975 as of yesterday. Both figures are the highest in South-east Asia.
Dr I. Wayan Gede Artawan Eka Putra, an epidemiologist at Bali-based Udayana University, said that while he saw no issue with the reopening as long as strict measures are taken, what could throw a spanner in the works is the province's reliance on antibody tests.
Accurate detection of Covid-19 can only be achieved with polymerase chain reaction tests, he said.
Dr I. Gusti Agung Ngurah Anom, chairman of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hospital Association, said hospitals will be able to cope, with more beds being made available for Covid-19 patients.
Tourism-related businesses said they are ready to comply with the health protocols.
Mr Hariyadi Sukamdani, chairman of Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association, said that hotels and restaurants in Bali will ensure that they adhere to protocols such as maintaining a distance of at least 1m between customers and having staff wear masks and gloves when serving guests.
"There will be no compromise in implementing the health protocols. It's a must," he said.
Mr I. Ketut Ardana, chairman of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agency Association, said businesses have been observing the protocols so far and he is confident they will continue to do so. "We are used to prioritising cleanliness, health and safety. We only need to reinforce them further."