Emma Connors, Singapore – The Indonesian government is wrapping Bali in a bubble in an effort to protect the holiday mecca from rising new cases, as hotels start to advertise to international tourists ahead of a planned reopening in July.
Indonesia's daily tally of new cases is up 38 per cent on last week, with 5907 reported on Sunday. Positive test results are also up, and there has been a slight increase in hospitalisations.
Previous holiday surges suggest new cases related to travel during the Eid/Idul Fitri celebrations at the end of Ramadan will peak in mid-June, according to Indonesia's deputy health minister Dante Saksono Harbuwono.
That is a month before Bali is due to end its 15-month ban on international arrivals. Mr Dante said the government was hopeful the reopening would go ahead. Vaccination rates in Bali and the capital Jakarta on Java are the highest in the country, so attempts are being made to cordon off these islands from Sumatra, where vaccinations are low and cases are rising.
"We are fortunate we are an archipelago nation. We can make bubbles around islands. On Monday I had a meeting with the President and he asked me to restrict the transmission for people from Sumatra to Java and to Bali," Mr Dante said in response to a question from The Australian Financial Review.
"Of course, some events may occur that we can't prepare for. But hopefully we can open Bali as planned in mid-July."
On Bali, there are fears the island will be forced to postpone the reopening, one more blow after domestic tourism was restricted during the recent holiday period. Hotel owners point to Thailand's tourist island of Phuket, where plans to reopen are now in jeopardy due to a surge of new cases across the country.
"We need all the support Jakarta can give," said Dr Pandudiana Kuhn, chairman of the Indonesian Exporters' Association and owner of several hotels on Bali. "During the Idul Fitri, many tourism businesses were dependent on domestic travel. However, due to potential new strains, travel bans were implemented which resulted to only 12,000-13,000 travellers during this period."
In a normal year, Bali's permanent population of 4.3 million is boosted by 19 million tourists. Between January 1 and April 23 last year, there were 1.1 million international arrivals. This year there were just 348. Domestic arrivals halved to 417,000.
Steve Charles, past president of the Bali Skal Tourism Club, said every Bali business had their fingers crossed the national government would lift the ban on short-term overseas arrivals as planned.
"There are lots of new places ready to open up but it's out of our hands. We've heard Qatar Airways, Emirates and Turkish Airlines are on track to come in July, which would be great. It's all up to Jakarta," he said.
"All my Australian friends keep texting and messaging me, telling me they are dying to come back but they obviously have to wait until their government allows them to travel."
In Jakarta the government is balancing the urgent need to get Bali moving again – the island's economy shrunk 9.4 per cent last year, compared to the national contraction of 2.1 per cent – with the additional health risk posed by new strains of the coronavirus.
The British, South African and Indian strains the World Health Organisation has described as "variants of concern" have all been found in Indonesia.
Among the imported cases with the Indian variant are 14 Filipino crew members aboard a cargo ship who tested positive in Cilacap, Central Java. This cluster has grown to include 31 health workers who were in direct contact with the crew, and 12 others who were contacts of the infected health workers.
Another six health workers have also tested positive.