JAKARTA - Indonesia might reopen its popular resort island Bali to foreign visitors from select countries in October, now that the Covid-19 situation is under control, a senior minister has said.
Speaking to foreign media on Friday (Sept 17), Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan referred to falling infections in Indonesia and said: "Looking at the current trend, we are very confident we can open Bali by October."
He added that preparations are ongoing to enable the island to welcome tourists again.
Mr Luhut also noted that the decision to reopen Bali will be taken cautiously, and will depend on how well the pandemic situation improves over the coming weeks.
He said only visitors from countries with low infections, such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand, will be allowed in. These visitors will still need to serve quarantine, he said.
At present, Indonesia permits only foreign nationals who hold diplomatic or working visas, or are eligible for other exemptions to enter the country.
Bali, home to 4.3 million people, largely depends on tourism to drive its economy. Many workers in the hospitality industry have lost their jobs or turned to farming and other sectors to make ends meet since the island closed its doors to overseas holidaymakers in March last year.
The island was set to reopen in July this year but a sharp surge in Covid-19 cases, driven by the Delta variant, put paid to those plans.
Daily infections in Bali have since fallen, prompting the authorities to ease restrictions early this week. Vaccinations have also been rolled out, with 96 per cent of the target population having already received their first jabs.
Mr Luhut, who is in charge of the Covid-19 response, said Bali would be the starting point for Indonesia's gradual reopening to foreigners.
"We are not in a big rush to make Indonesia 100 per cent open (to all foreign visitors)," he said, noting that the country has managed to grow its economy despite closing its borders.
In response to The Straits Times' query on when plans for a travel corridor between Singapore and some regions in the Riau Islands such as Batam and Bintan can be implemented, Mr Luhut said that the government is considering the plan, but will monitor the Covid-19 situation in Singapore.
"We'd like to also see what happens in Singapore. If the cases in Singapore (are) high, of course, we don't want that," he said, adding the situation in Batam and Bintan are "much better" than in the past.
Indonesia, which is among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Asia, has reported nearly 4.2 million cases and more than 140,000 deaths from Covid-19. It recorded 3,835 infections and 219 fatalities on Friday.
The positivity rate - the number of those tested for Covid-19 who are positive - has now plunged to 2 per cent from 31 per cent in late July. The figure is less than the 5 per cent benchmark set by the World Health Organisation to evaluate whether the Covid-19 situation in a country is under control and restrictions can be eased.
Earlier, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that Indonesia plans to begin opening its borders to foreigners in November, once 70 per cent of its target population have received at least one vaccine shot.