Though we are happy to see more people coming to Bali, we have to admit that opening the border for tourists has a negative impact too. With the positive cases of Covid-19 skyrocketing due to health protocol violations, let us take a moment to step back and inspect what we have done wrong.
While the use of ace masks have been mandatory all across the island, many people are still taking this lightly. Tourists were seen roaming the streets with their masks hanging on the chin, eliminating the effectivity of the masks altogether.
Malls were packed with people, whom despite of their body temperatures, might still be non-symptomatic carriers of the virus; and although they were encouraged to maintain safe distances from fellow visitors, well, it simply wasn’t the case.
As the photos of Health Protocol Violations circulated some weeks ago, headlines in several local outlets included the phrase “naughty bule” for those caught not wearing masks properly — or at all. Bule is an Indonesian word for foreigners, especially Caucasians, and the spots they tend to favour have become a focus for authorities.
Many head to the Badung regency area, where the popular Kuta and Seminyak beaches are located. Here, local authorities have recorded the highest number of coronavirus health protocol violations in Bali, with 8,864 offences occurring up to this week.
“Most of [the offences] were not bringing their masks, not wearing them properly, and some businesses not applying health protocols,” Badung regency Public Order Agency chief I Gusti Agung Kerta Suryanegara told the ABC.
While many of them were local Balinese, Mr Suryanegara said 80 per cent of people who had been fined for violating COVID-19 regulations were foreigners, mostly from Europe. “Some foreigners were found walking on the beach, sitting in restaurants, and riding motorbikes without masks,” he said.
Mr Suryanegara said foreigners who had been caught seemed to underestimate the strength of health protocols in Bali and those who had been fined were “naughty”. But those who committed minor mistakes, such as bringing their mask but not wearing it, were asked to do push-ups or sweep the street.
Although many Australians have been cautioned for not properly wearing masks, none have yet been fined over that. Some, however, were fined because they were “showing resistance” like “talking back”, or not being cooperative, when approached by officers, Mr Suryanegara said.
I’m not saying that Indonesians are well behaved, but fines were given as the [last resort], which means that [those who were fined] didn’t want to comply and were very defensive,” Mr Suryanegara said.
In September, Bali started fining residents caught without a face mask 100,000 rupiah ($9). Overall, the Public Order Agency has recorded more than 15,000 offences in Bali since the mandatory mask rule was introduced. Mr Suryanegara said so far authorities have gathered 15.3 million rupiah ($1,400) from the fines in Badung alone.
Kadek Astika lives in Kerobokan, in Badung regency, and operates a couple of villas in the area. She said the breaching of health protocols during the pandemic showed how outsiders, such as foreigners and tourists, often did not respect local culture.
“Even before the pandemic we have already seen many foreign tourists, particularly the young ones not following the rules, such as riding bikes without helmets or getting drunk and then involved in brawls on the streets,” Ms Astika said.
“Some of them also violated our traditions and values by disrespecting sacred sites with their behaviour when visiting temples.” But Ms Astika said it was not just foreigners or local tourists ignoring the health directives. “Our pecalang [traditional Balinese security forces] has been tirelessly trying to discipline local people too,” she said.
According to the country’s National COVID-19 Task Force, the compliance rate for wearing masks in Bali is 96.5 per cent, while maintaining physical distancing is 92 per cent. That makes the island’s compliance with COVID-19 protocols the best in Indonesia.
Indonesia began rolling out its vaccination program last Wednesday, with President Joko Widodo receiving the first jab of the Chinese-developed Sinovac vaccine. Bali started administering vaccinations the following day.
Throughout the pandemic, more than 850,000 people in Indonesia have been infected and there has been more than 20,000 cases in Bali. Indonesia recorded its highest number of daily cases — 11,557 — on Thursday, two weeks after end-of-year holidays. Tighter restrictions had been imposed in Java and Bali, requiring places including shopping centres, malls, and restaurants to close by 9:00pm.
However, local media reported that authorities were involved in an argument after several foreigners refused to leave a restaurant after the deadline. The video of the dispute was posted on Instagram.
Last week, the Governor of Bali, I Wayan Koster, said since many foreigners were “difficult to manage” the Bali Government would take further action. “Tourists not wearing masks will not be given entry to tourist destinations and restaurants,” Mr Koster said.
“So they will not be given any services if they don’t wear a mask. “That’s our decision … because there are already many violations committed by foreign tourists.” Mr Suryanegara from the Public Order Agency said he hoped the tighter restrictions would “make everyone, not just foreigners, obey the rules”
With the vaccines being distributed across the country, let’s all get the shot and ditch this virus once and for all. Let’s hope for a Covid-free 2021. Like always, stay safe and stay healthy!