JAKARTA: Indonesia is looking to welcome back foreign tourists to its resort island of Bali in October after a 98 percent drop in the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country since its worst peak in July, officials said.
Last week, authorities eased COVID-19 restrictions on the tourist island, but international visitors will still face stricter health protocols on arrival to curb the spread of new variants.
Some measures include providing vaccination certificates, undergoing an eight-day quarantine and taking three PCR tests before entering the island.
“We are preparing Bali for (hosting) the G20, so we will have the trial by reopening Bali for foreigners,” Sandiaga Uno, the tourism and creative economy minister, told a press briefing on Monday.
“We don’t want to let our guard down; that would enable other new variants to enter Indonesia like the delta,” he said.
Officials said that some of the countries to be welcomed back could include France, Ukraine, Russia, Austria, Poland, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan.
The government assesses the outbreak situation every week, and Uno said that authorities were approaching the reopening very carefully to avoid a third wave of the pandemic after the second wave — triggered by the highly contagious delta variant — ravaged Indonesia, especially its most populated island of Java and Bali, in July and August.
Indonesia is set to take over the G20 chairmanship in 2022 from this year’s host, Italy.
It is a year earlier than the initial schedule, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi, after India — which was set to hold the 2022 presidency — agreed to swap the schedule with Indonesia for 2023.
One of the optional locations in Bali to host the G20 main events would be in Nusa Dua, Uno said, responding to a question from Arab News.
Bali’s Nusa Dua resort cluster, where numerous luxury hotels are located, has hosted other international summits for Indonesia in the past as well.
However, Uno said that the government remained cautious and would reopen Bali and other tourist destinations in stages based on how the situation developed.
Bali is heavily reliant on tourism for its economy, and its regional GDP severely contracted during the pandemic last year following Indonesia’s suspension of visa-free travel for foreign tourists.
In neighboring Lombok Island, adjacent to Bali’s east, its main tourist destinations have also become sleepy towns due to the absence of international visitors.
Some resort hotels on Lombok’s picturesque Senggigi Beach have been shut for months, with very few open as quarantine facilities or those providing heavily discounted prices for domestic tourists.
Meanwhile, Senaru village in the northern part of Lombok, where one of the tracks to hike up Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, Mount Rinjani, starts, is also empty with homestays that were earlier bustling with tourists.
“I could hike up to the peak of Rinjani two or three times a week with guests before the pandemic,” said a village native and mountain guide, Surya, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
On Monday, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister for investment affairs handling the pandemic in Java and Bali, said that the pandemic’s severity status in all major cities on the two islands had been lowered to level two and three, from the most severe level of four.
“The daily number of new cases has dropped 98 percent from its worst in mid-July,” he said.
The downgrade in outbreak severity level means that some restrictions have been eased, with malls, restaurants, tourism destinations, and public places can welcome customers again with a limited capacity.
In a press briefing on Friday, Pandjaitan said given the current trend, including the case reproduction rate in Java and Bali that lowered on Friday to below 1 at 0.98 and is the lowest since the pandemic hit Indonesia in March 2020, the government is “very confident” that they can reopen Bali for foreign visitors in October.
International arrivals to Indonesia currently have to undergo an eight-day quarantine in Jakarta and Manado, North Sulawesi, where the airports are open for international flights, while the other international airports, including Bali, are still closed for international flights.
“We will review in October to see if it can be reduced to five days,” Pandjaitan said.