James Massola – The Indonesian island of Bali has bowed to the inevitable and will remain closed to foreign tourists until the end of 2020.
For months, local government officials have insisted Bali would reopen to overseas tourists on September 11. It began allowing domestic tourists to visit on July 31.
Earlier this month the Minister for Maritime and Investment Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan supported the reopening, though he subsequently back-tracked.
Bali's economy is heavily reliant on foreign tourists and has been smashed by the coronavirus pandemic with hotel occupancy rates dropping by up to 95 per cent. The decision to keep the borders shut will be a significant further blow for the large number of people dependent on jobs in tourism.
A whopping 1.3 million Australians travelled to the island in 2019 – more than any other country.
Bali provincial Governor Wayan Koster issued a statement that acknowledged the pandemic's hit to the economy: it contracted by 1.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 and 10.9 per cent in the second quarter.
He also highlighted the island's relative success in combating the spread of the virus, with 4024 COVID-19 cases confirmed and 49 deaths.
Wayan said the reopening to domestic tourists had been successful thus far with "no increase in new cases of COVID-19, no new clusters of COVID-19 cases".
He noted that "Australia, whose citizens travel the most to Bali, is only planning to allow its citizens to travel in 2021. Likewise, China, Korea, Japan, and countries in Europe".
At present, Australians cannot travel outside the country without the express permission of the Department of Home Affairs.
"The Indonesian government still enforces a policy that prohibits its citizens from travelling abroad, at least until the end of 2020. In line with that, the Indonesian government has not been able to open the door of entry for foreign tourists to Indonesia until the end of 2020, because Indonesia is still in the red zone category."
"The situation in Indonesia is not yet conducive to allowing foreign tourists to visit."
The Indonesian government has held talks with neighbouring countries about establishing so-called travel bubbles to allow limited tourism and travel.
As of Sunday, Indonesia had reported 153,535 confirmed cases of coronavirus and another 75,522 suspected cases, the second highest number in south-east Asia after the Philippines. A total of 6680 deaths have been recorded, the highest in the region, but it's feared the real toll is considerably higher.
The total number of cases may be 10 times higher than the numbers reported, according to two of the country's most respected epidemiologists.