Coronavirus: Indonesia still evaluating when to reopen Bali and other tourist hot spots

Tourists relax at a beach in Seminyak, Bali, on Aug 7, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Indonesia is still evaluating when to reopen Bali and other tourist hot spots to foreign visitors, noting that efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus has higher priority than the economy.

Local tourism chiefs had set a goal to open Bali, Indonesia's most visited destination, to foreigners on Sept 11, subject to Jakarta's approval. The island reopened to domestic tourists on July 31, under strict health protocols.

Mr Erick Thohir, chairman of the national economic and Covid-19 recovery committee, said on Saturday (Aug 15): "Yesterday (Friday), we had a coordination meeting... and discussed that reopening to foreign tourists would be positive, but we must decide the right timing.

"We really need foreign tourists, but we don't want to risk having new clusters.

"Reopening to foreign tourists is under evaluation. The (possible) vaccines may only be available next year."

Bali's reopening to domestic tourists at the end of July came as the province tried to revive its badly hit economy as it continued to curb the coronavirus spread.

The province had 4,024 infections as of Saturday, with 49 deaths, compared with about 3,300 infections and 48 deaths at the end of July.

Mr I. Putu Astawa, head of Bali's tourism agency, told The Straits Times in late July that the province had to strike a balance between its economic and health interests.

The overall number of coronavirus cases across Indonesia's 34 provinces totalled 135,123 as of Friday, the second highest in South-east Asia after the Philippines, while deaths reached 6,021, the highest in the region.

The Philippines said it recently overtook Indonesia as the South-east Asia's highest because it boosted testing, arguing it had a much higher testing rate relative to its population than Indonesia.

Indonesia said there are increasing numbers of recovered patients, with data showing that at least 1,000 people across the archipelago have been sent home every day since mid-July after testing negative for Covid-19 twice consecutively.

There were 89,618 recovered patients in Indonesia as of Friday.

In a separate online discussion on Monday, the coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who among others oversees the tourism sector, said he noticed a surge in the number of visitors to Bali and Banyuwangi in East Java two days after they reopened to domestic tourists under strict protocols, including showing proof of testing negative for Covid-19.

"I went there (Bali, Banyuwangi) 10 days ago. It was very quiet. But two days after, (the number of visitors) jumped. I was worried about (a possible increase in) Covid-19 infections. But I checked a week later, it was (relatively) stable," Mr Luhut said on Monday.

He added that Indonesia would be prudent about re-admitting foreign tourists: "We are not going to reopen immediately. We must carefully select the originating countries. We are studying this carefully day to day."

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