Bali set to welcome foreign tourists in September amid warnings

File photo of Kecak Dance performance in Uluwatu, Bali. Photo: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy
File photo of Kecak Dance performance in Uluwatu, Bali. Photo: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy

Bali is set to reopen its doors to foreign tourists in September, the provincial government has announced, following months of travel, social, and movement restrictions due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, which has not shown any signs of slowing down in the popular holiday destination.

The provincial government appears to be moving forward with their tentative timeline to reopen Bali, with governor Wayan Koster laying out more details of a three-step plan to restart activities while complying with strict health protocols, as part of the so-called “new normal.” This plan includes opening up tourism to foreign visitors on Sept. 11. 

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Before it gets to that point, officials are currently preparing to restart activities within the island this coming Thursday, which will see a gradual return of activities across different sectors, except for tourism and education. Should officials deem the first phase a success, Bali will start welcoming domestic tourists on July 31. 

Speaking on Sunday during a mass prayer ceremony at Besakih Temple in Karangasem regency, Koster reiterated that the plan is still “tentative” in nature and therefore subject to change depending on COVID-19 developments on the ground. 

“We are still trying our best to handle COVID-19, but at the same time we must restart activities to continue the livelihoods of the people,” Koster said.

In late May, Bank Indonesia (BI) said Bali’s economy is among the hardest hit in Indonesia amid the pandemic, with officials citing massive decline in tourism as the main reason behind the slowdown. According to Rizki Ernadi Wimanda, deputy chief of BI’s Bali office, tourism contributes between 54 to 58 percent to the province’s economy.

People working in a paddy field in Bali. Photo: Pixabay
People working in a paddy field in Bali. Photo: Pixabay

It remains unclear what key aspects are being considered, seeing as coronavirus cases in the Island of the Gods have been increasing by almost four-fold since the beginning of June, when cases stood at 482. As of July 6, Bali has reported 1,900 COVID-19 cases, including 974 recoveries and 23 deaths. 

I Made Ady Wirawan, the head of Udayana University’s School of Public Health, said that Bali is not ready to reopen tourism. 

“From epidemiological perspectives, Bali is not ready to reopen tourism. New cases are still high [and] local transmissions are not yet under control,” Ady told Coconuts Bali. 

In addition, Ady said Bali’s testing capacity is still inadequate, thus limiting efforts to trace infections and further complicating efforts to control the outbreak. 

In the four months since the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Indonesia, Bali has yet to go into full lockdown, while official data have yet to suggest a slowing rate of coronavirus infections in the province. 

Despite various restrictions that have been put in place since the beginning of the outbreak, such as students studying from home, limited operational hours for businesses and restaurants, as well as the closure of tourist attractions, more and more cases of local transmissions have been reported in recent weeks.

Many of these cases are traced back to traditional markets across the island, some of which were temporarily closed as health officials conducted mass rapid testings, but were subsequently reopened for business after a few days.

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