Coronavirus: Indonesia still evaluating when to reopen Bali to foreign tourists

People at a drive-in concert in Ubud, Bali, yesterday. The Indonesian holiday island reopened to domestic tourists on July 31 and the government is considering allowing foreign visitors to enter again.
People at a drive-in concert in Ubud, Bali, on Aug 15, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

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

Local tourism chiefs had set a goal to reopen 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 yesterday: "We had a coordination meeting... and discussed that reopening to foreign tourists would be positive, but we must decide on 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 was reopened for domestic tourists in a bid to revive its badly hit economy even as the island continued to curb the virus spread.

Bali had 4,024 infections as of yesterday, 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, had earlier told The Sunday Times that the island had to strike a balance between its economic and health interests.

The overall number of Covid-19 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 South-east Asia's worst-hit because it had boosted testing, arguing it had a 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 in the country have been sent home from hospital every day since mid-July after testing negative for Covid-19 twice consecutively.

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

  • 724

    Number of new cases in Bali since the end of July, when it reopened to domestic tourists.

In a separate online discussion last Monday, Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who also 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.

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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2020, with the headline 'Indonesia still evaluating when to reopen Bali to foreign tourists'. Subscribe