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Coronavirus

Bali backpedals on reopening to international tourists in 2020

COVID-hit industry's hopes now hinge on domestic travel and 'workations'

A fisherman prepares for the day on an empty beach in Bali during the coronavirus pandemic.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesia's popular resort island of Bali has dropped plans to reopen to foreign tourists this year, as the government first looks to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The island, which allowed domestic travelers back in at the end of July, had long maintained that it would start welcoming international visitors again on Sept. 11. Bali has a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, with 4,513 total confirmed infections as of Sunday -- just 3% of the national total.

But in a statement issued over the weekend, Bali Gov. Wayan Koster said that the Indonesian government "has not been able to open the door to foreign tourists until the end of 2020, because Indonesia is still in the [coronavirus] red zone category."

"The situation in Indonesia is not yet conducive to allowing foreign tourists to visit Indonesia, including visiting Bali," the governor added.

Bali's economy, which depends heavily on tourism, is already in a recession. It contracted 1.14% in the first quarter, followed by a much steeper 10.98% drop in the second period. The governor said 2,667 people have been laid off in the tourism sector, while 73,631 have been furloughed.

Reopening Bali to international visitors "requires caution ... due to Bali's position as the world's main tourist destination," the governor said. He warned that a rush to restore tourism, if it exacerbates the virus danger, would hurt Indonesia's global image.

This could "have counterproductive consequences for tourism recovery efforts," he said.

Officials will instead "optimize efforts to bring domestic tourists to Bali," Koster said, a plan that jibes with the central government's approach.

Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment and President Joko Widodo's right-hand man, said earlier this month that the government was thinking about domestic medical travel and "workations" that combine work and holidays.

The minister said that there are around 500,000 to 1 million Indonesians who have "quite a lot of money" because they could not take the Umrah -- the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca -- this year due to travel restrictions. Others were unable to seek medical treatments in Singapore or Malaysia.

"If you count it, it could be trillions or billions of dollars," Panjaitan said. Calling for that money to be spent domestically, he suggested workers in the tech sectors could work from Bali.

"We are thinking about it and we are pushing it. We just have to make the rules."

Overall, Indonesia has 153,535 confirmed COVID-19 cases -- the second-highest in Southeast Asia behind the Philippines -- with 6,680 deaths.

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