Coronavirus Pandemic

Indonesia Covid Slow start as Bali re opens to foreign tourists

Indonesia Covid Slow start as Bali re opens to foreign tourists
Henry

The much anticipated re-opening of Indonesia's famed tourist island Bali has seen a slow start, with no international flights scheduled.

As of Thursday, fully vaccinated travellers from 19 countries including China, India, and France can enter Bali. The UK is not on the list.

But visitors must first serve a five-day quarantine in a hotel.

Officials had closed the international airport in April last year to stop the coronavirus from spreading.

In July, Indonesia became the epicentre of Covid in Asia, but daily cases have since reduced significantly.

Now the tourism sector is hoping that some of the 6 million foreigners who visited the island in 2019, before the pandemic hit, will return.

The island has one of the highest vaccination rates in Indonesia, with more than 82% fully vaccinated, according to health ministry data.

But according to flight monitoring site Flightradar24, there were no international flights scheduled to land at Bali's Ngurah Rai airport on Thursday and Friday.

"Until today, I Gusti Ngurah Rai Bali Airport still hasn't received any international flight slot request, whether a flight to Bali or from Bali. But, instructions from the national COVID-19 task force said that Bali is now an entry point for international flights to Indonesia," the airport's spokesperson Taufan Yudhistira told Reuters news agency.

Officials had only released the full list of countries on Wednesday evening, and have said they expect hotel and flight bookings to pick up over time.

There were also reports that details of the re-opening including visa requirements were scant.

'Burden for tourists'

Hotels, restaurants and other businesses catering to tourists have been gearing up for the re-opening.

"This is very good news, it's very promising to revive the economy in Bali," Asih Wesika, the deputy chair of the Indonesian Entrepreneurs Association (Apindo) in Bali, told BBC News Indonesian earlier this week.

But he was also worried that the quarantine requirement would be a "burden for tourists" and turn off many people. Most travellers, such as the Chinese who made up the second highest number of tourists pre-pandemic, typically visit Bali for short periods.

Visitors wear protective mask at Beach Walk Mall during Covid-19 restriction relaxationImage source, Getty Images
Image caption, Bali's move to reopen comes as several rival tourist destinations in South East Asia relax entry restrictions

"Now that they are required to be quarantined and have to bear the cost by themselves, this becomes an even more expensive vacation cost," he said.

The head of the Bali tourism office, I Putu Astawa, told BBC News Indonesian that the Covid situation remained "dynamic". "If there is a new variant, we must be careful first while we evaluate further developments," he said.

But he said the government was considering the possibility of reducing the quarantine period to three days, and eventually doing away with the quarantine requirement altogether.

The 19 countries are: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Hungary and Norway.

Officials said they chose countries considered by the WHO to be low-risk with few positive Covid cases.

Australia, where most of Bali's tourists came from before the pandemic, was conspicuously absent from the list. The country is currently seeing another wave of infections.

Bali's move to reopen comes as several rival tourist destinations in South East Asia are beginning to relax travel restrictions for foreigners.

Since earlier this year the Thai island of Phuket has been welcoming fully vaccinated travellers from any country, and from 1 November travellers from certain countries will no longer need to serve quarantine.

Vietnam is also planning to open up its tourist island of Phu Quoc in November to fully vaccinated foreign tourists.

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