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Bali reopens for Indonesian tourists on Eid holiday

City of Jakarta extends restrictions after new clusters emerge in offices

A man prepares an umbrella for rent at a beach in Bali, Indonesia on Monday.   © AP

JAKARTA -- Indonesia's resort island of Bali started reopening its doors for domestic tourists on Friday, even as the capital Jakarta extends its partial restrictions on movement due to the continued rise of coronavirus cases.

Coinciding with the Idul Adha, or Eid, holiday observed in most parts of the Muslim-majority country, the move follows the partial opening of tourist sites for Bali residents on July 9 ahead of the island's plan to allow international visitors from Sept. 11.

Bali Gov. Wayan Koster said Thursday that the province could not afford a longer delay in reopening, because over half its economy relies on tourism. Bank Indonesia said Bali, which has suffered from a sharp decline in Chinese visitors since February, saw its economy contract 1.14% in the first quarter. This compared with national growth of 2.97%.

"The pandemic has practically caused tourism to paralyze, which has impacted people's economic and business activities -- causing hotels and restaurants to be deserted," Koster said at the ceremony broadcast live on YouTube. "Therefore, in line with the president's directives, we're gathering the courage to do this reopening in stages."

Koster said the local government would ensure the implementation of strict health protocols including mask wearing and physical distancing at tourist sites. Bali is also working on expanding the use of QR codes to support digital payments to reduce physical contact through the use of cash.

He said Bali decided to proceed with the plans, given that coronavirus cases in the province are "under control." As of Thursday, 80% of the 3,360 people so far infected there have recovered. The island's fatality rate of 1.4% is lower than the nationwide 4.7% figure.

Koster asked the central government to revise its policy restricting international flights ahead of the expected return of foreign tourists in mid-September.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan, who attended Thursday's ceremony, said the central government supports Bali's moves, citing the need to recover foreign exchange reserves from tourism, which have contracted 97% during the pandemic.

"Tourism is one of the sectors that the government is paying a lot of attention to -- because of the very high state revenue from tourism and because it has created millions of jobs," Pandjaitan said.

Bali, however, has struggled to accurately record the number of tests it has performed, making it difficult to assess whether its low coronavirus figures stem from the actual situation or from less rigorous testing.

Jakarta, on the other hand, provides daily updates on the number of tests it has performed, as well as confirmed infections, deaths and suspected cases. As of Thursday, the capital reported a total of 20,969 cases and 817 deaths -- the second highest in Indonesia after East Java Province -- and over 390,000 tests performed. That is a rate of about 35 tests per 1,000 people, roughly 10 times the national level.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan said Jakarta's positive rate -- the number of confirmed infections versus the number of tests performed -- in the past week hovered around 6.5%. New clusters have emerged in offices.

Baswedan said Thursday that Jakarta has decided to again extend its so-called "transition" period before the economy can be fully reopened through Aug. 13. During the transition, offices, shopping malls and other public places can only run at half capacity and under strict health protocols.

"The Jakarta provincial administration will keep tightening oversight on every business and public activity," the governor said. "We will publicly announce on our website violations by businesses and sanctions against them. And we will apply progressive fines for repeat violations."

Wary of further spikes in cases nationally but reluctant to reimpose movement restrictions, officials over the past few days have repeatedly reminded Muslims to strictly apply health protocols while taking part in Idul Adha rituals.

In Indonesia, the holiday -- which coincides the peak of the annual hajj season in Saudi Arabia -- is commonly marked with mass prayers in the morning in mosques or open fields. Cattle are slaughtered and the meat distributed among the poor and neighbors.

"Keep your distance from each other in mosques, or in open fields," said Jusuf Kalla, former Indonesian vice president and chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council, in a televised speech on Thursday.

"Discipline requires a sacrifice, in the form of our discomfort or others. But now that is absolutely necessary. It will save a lot of people."

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