DENPASAR — Indonesia’s resort island of Bali reopened after a three-month virus lockdown Thursday, allowing local people and stranded foreign tourists to resume public activities before foreign arrivals resume in September.
Normally bustling beaches and streets on the idyllic Southeast Asian island emptied in early April except for special patrols to ensure health protocols to contain the coronavirus were observed. Authorities restricted public activities, closed the airport and shuttered all shops, bars, sit-down restaurants, public swimming pools and many other places on the island that’s home to more than 4 million people.
The local government began lifting the limits Thursday, but tourists will face stringent rules in hotels, restaurants and on beaches, Bali Gov. I Wayan Koster said. Koster told a news conference ahead of the reopening the island will gradually reopen shuttered places to locals and the foreigners stranded there during the outbreak.
The island will open to Indonesians from other parts of the country on July 31 and new foreign arrivals on Sept. 11. The government established guidelines for reopening tourist spots and may close certain areas again if infections spike, he said.
“The pandemic has hit tourism sector so badly while there is no certainty when it will end,” Koster said. “We have to revive economic activity to prevent Bali from new social problems due to increasing economic pressures.”
Tourism is the main source of income for the island that is mainly Hindu in the mostly Muslim archipelago nation. The famed white-sand beaches and popular shopping areas on the “island of the gods” were deserted almost two decades ago when visitors were scared off by terrorism. The dark cloud of the suicide bombings that killed 202 mostly foreign tourists in 2002 lingered for years, but the island has worked to overcome that image.
More than 5 million foreigners arrived in Bali each year prior to the pandemic, which caused the numbers to dive. The total number of stranded tourists in Bali is not known, but more than 169,000 travelers came to Bali in March before the island closed its doors, according to government data. The data showed that some 2,500 travelers had extended their visas to avoid penalties for overstaying them before Indonesia’s government granted all tourists automatic extensions in late March.
The Bali administration data showed the occupancy rate at Bali’s starred hotels plunged to 2.07% in May from 62.5% in December, before the outbreak hit. It down from 51.56% in May last year. Bali has recorded more than 1,900 cases of COVID-19, including 25 deaths. Indonesia has confirmed more than 68,000 cases and 3,359 fatalities, the most in Southeast Asia.