Local News

New virus cases knock hopes of reviving Southeast Asia’s holiday hotspots

A spike in coronavirus infections in Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali and Thailand’s first locally transmitted case in 100 days have dealt further blows to Southeast Asian hopes of reviving vital tourism industries.

Plans to reopen Bali to foreign tourists from September have been postponed indefinitely, while Thailand’s proposal for the cautious reopening of Phuket island has come into doubt.

As well as trying to encourage domestic tourism industries, some Southeast Asian countries have been considering “travel bubbles” with others as a way to get businesses restarted.

Bali initially appeared to weather the health crisis better than other parts of Indonesia, which has suffered Southeast Asia’s biggest death toll by far. But coronavirus cases have spiked after it reopened its borders to domestic tourism at the end of July.

“Increasing domestic tourism is one important factor for increasing cases in Bali,” said Dr Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia.

While Ketut Suarjaya, the head of Bali’s health agency, said domestic tourism was not to blame for the spike in cases, others see Bali’s experience as a warning of the dangers of reopening borders too soon.

Epidemiologists and public health experts said the arrival of tourists in Bali not only made infection from other parts of Indonesia more likely, but underscored the country’s shortcomings in tackling the pandemic, namely a lack of testing and contract tracing.

Public health experts also said another likely contributing factor was the arrival of the more infectious mutation of the virus, known as D614G.

Bali posted a record 196 coronavirus cases on Friday, the fifth consecutive daily record. Daily cases in the holiday island almost tripled on average over the past six weeks, while the death tally doubled to 116 over that period.

Bali souvenir shop owner Kamil, who goes only by one name as is common in Indonesia, said he still wasn’t doing much business but tried not to get too stressed.

“I just leave it to God because we cannot predict the future,” he said. “All we can do now is run the business according to health protocols.”

Indonesia’s economy had its first quarterly contraction in over two decades in the second quarter – with Bali’s economy shrinking even more than the rest of the country at nearly 11 percent.

Thailand, where foreign visitor spending made up over 11% of GDP last year, has been even harder hit by the collapse in tourism despite better managing the pandemic – also contracting the most since the Asian financial crisis in the second quarter.

The country suspended plans for a “travel bubble” agreement with select countries in August as new daily coronavirus cases rose in parts of Asia.

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the official Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said the cautious reopening of Phuket to foreign tourists would likely be delayed until after the planned start date of 1 st Oct.

Yuthasak told Reuters he hoped it would still start during Europe’s winter – Thailand’s tourist high season.

Vietnam’s local tourism reopening, after initially clearing itself of the virus, also took a knock when a new outbreak was discovered in the resort city of Danang in July, forcing it to go under a strict lockdown that was only lifted on Monday. Back in Indonesia, Kamil said he remained positive as long as his shop stayed open. “Maybe there will be a customer,” he said. (Thejakartapost.com 08/09/2020)


23 people fined on first day of mandatory mask rule in Bali

It really is time to get serious about wearing your masks, folks, because (aside from the obvious health reasons) officers from the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) will fine you on the spot if you get caught without one.

The Bali provincial administration started enforcing the mandatory mask rule yesterday, as part of a new regulation issued to control coronavirus transmissions on the island.

Individuals failing to wear a mask outside of their homes are subject to an IDR100,000 (US$6.78) fine, whereas business and public facilities are subject to an IDR1,000,000 (US$67.80) fine or have their permits temporarily revoked if they don’t provide health precaution facilities. Gusti Agung Ketut Suryanegara, who heads Satpol PP in Badung regency, told Coconuts Bali today that authorities caught 62 people violating the mandatory mask rule on the first day, based on their monitoring in South Kuta.

Suryanegara said officers were stationed in front of Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Cultural Park yesterday morning. Out of the dozens of violators, seven of them were reportedly foreigners.

Not all of them were subjected to the administrative sanction, he added, and only 23 people were fined.

Bali’s Deputy Governor Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, or Cok Ace, said the regulation seeks to raise awareness among the public.

“What’s important is people’s awareness. One of the key things we can do is wear masks, and that’s what has been laid out under the health protocol,” Cok Ace said earlier today.

Cok Ace said that people’s mobility on the island has risen significantly since Bali reopened to domestic tourism, especially in tourist attractions such as Kintamani, Bangli regency and Bedugul, Tabanan regency.

“[However], we see there is still a lack of awareness among them to use masks,” Cok Ace said.

“They are mostly young people who have better immunity and they don’t look like they are infected, [but] they could be asymptomatic. But what happens when they return to their homes?” (Coconuts.co 08/09/2020)


Bali hoteliers skeptical of surviving until 2021

Bali hoteliers are skeptical of their chances of weathering through the COVID-19 pandemic until next year, citing the sluggish impact of domestic tourism thus far.

“With four or five more months [to go], we are not sure how the tourism industry in Bali can survive to the beginning of 2021,” I Made Ramia Adnyana, deputy chief of the Indonesian Hotel General Manager Association in Bali, said.

Indonesia appears set to keep its borders closed for the rest of this year, which means no incoming foreign tourists. The government has instead said it will focus on the potential of domestic tourism to revive the economy and tourism industry.

Though the island started welcoming domestic tourists on July 31 after months of travel restrictions, Made said the reopening has yet to result in “significant impact to hotel occupancies in Bali.”

In order to boost the province’s economic recovery, Bali officials are reportedly pushing for ministerial and state events to take place in Bali, with such an event hosted by the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs being one of the most recent examples (though that one got a bit controversial because officials posed without masks).

Over the Aug. 20 long weekend, Made said Bali received around 4,900 visitors. As it is, the number pales in comparison to over 100,000 hotel rooms on the island. Kompas recently reported that there are more than 130,000 hotel rooms in Bali, whereas 2018 data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) showed nearly 110,000 registered hotel rooms. (Coconuts.co 02/09/2020)


3,000 tourists touched down at Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport daily last month

Bali has been welcoming 3,000 tourists daily on average since it reopened to domestic travelers at the end of July, according to the province’s Tourism Agency.

“As of today I can say we have reached around 3,000 [people daily] on average. During the long weekend it reached up to 5,000, and about 2,400-2,500 on weekdays,” Bali Tourism Agency head I Putu Astawa said, adding that tourism players are obliged to strictly implement health protocols.

“I don’t want this [reopening] to be the black sheep, as if it’s the source of new transmissions or clusters.”

Bali added more than 100 daily COVID-19 cases all of last week, with the province’s record high of 196 daily cases reported on Friday. As of yesterday afternoon, the provincial tally stands at 6,212, including 105 deaths.

The Indonesian government has said it will focus on domestic tourism for the rest of the year, having scrapped plans to reopen to foreign tourists.

Tourism’s huge contribution to the economy in Bali has made it the hardest hit economy in the country. Despite the restarting of activities on the island, Bali hoteliers are among those who are skeptical of their chances of weathering through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Coconuts.co 08/09/2020)


Bali is the hardest hit economy in Indonesia: Jokowi

Bali has taken the biggest economic hit in Indonesia from the COVID-19 pandemic, President Joko Widodo said today, as he urges immediate regional budget spending for Indonesia to avoid entering a recession.

“The biggest economic contraction was recorded in Bali, which is in a negative growth of 10.98 percent,” Jokowi said during a virtual meeting with Indonesia’s governors earlier today.

“This is because tourists, and tourism, is so dominant for Bali’s economy and so we can see how it [resulted] in this sharp decline.”

As Indonesia’s top tourist destination, the global halt in travel has resulted in a massive decline for Bali’s tourism industry, which reportedly contributes between 54 to 58 percent to the province’s economy.

Bali reopened to domestic tourism at the end of July to speed up its economic recovery. However, as Indonesia appears set to keep its borders closed for the rest of the year, the lack of foreign tourists are fueling skepticism among local businesses of their chances to survive the impacts of the pandemic.

Jakarta and Yogyakarta are also among the poor economic performers in Indonesia, with an economic slowdown of 8.22 percent and 6.74 percent respectively. On the other hand, Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua are the only ones reporting positive growth at 4.52 and 0.53 percent respectively.

After its GDP contracted 5.32 percent in the second quarter, the Indonesian economy is facing the threat of a recession as it enters its third quarter. (Coconuts.co 01/09/2020)