New virus cases have knocked hopes of reviving Southeast Asia’s holiday hotspots

By Sultan Anshori and Oratai Sering

BALI, Indonesia / BANGKOK (Reuters) – A spike in coronovirus infection in Indonesia’s Bali island and Thailand, the first locally transmitted case in 100 days, has further shocked Southeast Asian hopes to revive key tourism industries.

Plans to reopen Bali to foreign tourists have been postponed indefinitely since September, while Thailand’s proposal for a cautious reopening of Phuket Island has come under suspicion.

Along with trying to encourage domestic tourism industries, some South-East Asian countries are considering “travel bubbles” with others as a way to resume businesses.

Bali initially had better health crises than other parts of Indonesia, which suffered the largest ever deaths in Southeast Asia. Coronovirus cases have increased since the reopening of its borders to domestic tourism in late July.

An epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia, Dr. Pandu Riono said, “Domestic tourism is an important factor for the growing cases in Bali.”

While Bali’s health agency chief Ketoot Surajaya said domestic tourism is not to blame for the spike in cases, others view the Bali experience as a warning of the dangers of reopening borders.

Epidemiologists and public health experts said the arrival of tourists in Bali not only made infection more likely from other parts of Indonesia, but also underscored the country’s shortcomings in dealing with the epidemic, namely the lack of testing and contracting.

Public health experts also said that another possible contributing factor was the arrival of more infectious mutations of the virus, known as D614G.

Bali posted a record 196 coronavirus cases on Friday, its fifth consecutive daily record. Daily cases in Holiday Island nearly tripled on average in the past six weeks, while the number of deaths doubled to 116 over that period.

Kamil, the owner of the Bali Souvenir shop in Indonesia, which is known by only one name, said that he is still not doing a lot of business but tried not to get too stressed.

“I just leave it to God because we can’t predict the future,” he said. “Now we can run the business according to the health protocol.”

Financial relations

The second quarter of Indonesia’s economy was the first quarterly contraction in two decades – the economy of Bali shrunk by about 11% compared to the rest of the countries.

Thailand, where foreign visitors spent more than 11% of GDP last year, has been hit even more by the decline in tourism despite the epidemic’s better management – the highest contract since the Asian financial crisis in the second quarter.

The country postponed plans for a “travel bubble” agreement with select countries in August as new daily coronavirus cases occurred in parts of Asia.

Thailand’s Official Tourism Authority (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Suporn said the prospect of a cautious reopening of Phuket to foreign tourists would be delayed until after the start of the October 1 plan.

Yuthasak told Reuters that he expected it to start during Europe’s winters too – Thailand’s tourist high season.

Local tourism to Vietnam reopened after initially clearing itself of the virus, when a new outbreak was detected in the resort town of Danang in July, which only forced it to go under a tight lockdown, which Was raised only on Monday.

Back in Indonesia, Kamil said he remained positive as long as his shop remained open.

“Maybe there will be a customer,” he said.

(Written by Agustinus Beau da Costa in Jakarta and by James Pearson in Hanoi; Writings by Kate Lambing; Editing by Ana Nicolasi da Costa)