Earlier this month a senior government figure for Indonesia reaffirmed plans to welcome back Aussie tourists to Bali as it begins the long process of reopening to a global market amid the pandemic.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who serves as Coordination Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, said Australia would be one of the select few countries allowed back to the holiday island, along with Singapore, China and South Korea.
“Right now we engaged in discussions with Australia, with China, South Korea and Japan. So far. And Abu Dhabi as well. We will see what they need from us, what we need from them,” Mr Luhut stated.
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Then earlier today, the nation announced these plans had been shelved.
Bali’s provincial governor Wayan Koster addressed the third phase of reopening the island, essentially backtracking on Luhut’s statements.
“The Indonesian government still enforces a policy that prohibits its citizens from travelling abroad, at least until the end of 2020. In line with that, the Indonesian government has not been able to open the door of entry for foreign tourists to Indonesia until the end of 2020, because Indonesia is still in the red zone category.”
Airport officers wearing face masks line up as they hold flowers to welcome passengers at Bali airport, Indonesia on Friday, July 31, 2020. Indonesia’s resort island of Bali reopened for domestic tourists after months of lockdown due to a new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati) (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
He concluded: “The situation in Indonesia is not yet conducive to allowing foreign tourists to visit Indonesia, including visiting Bali.”
Bali had optimistically been planning to fling doors open to foreign tourists as soon as next month, pending approval from the Indonesian government.
By comparison, the Australian Government has long remained austere about the subject, suggesting we have a while yet before we can cement any such tourism pact.
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Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters “people shouldn’t get ahead of themselves”.
“There is still a way to go in opening up travel with New Zealand, which remains more likely than other countries.”
With about1.23 million Australians visiting the holiday island in 2019, according to Indonesia Institute, it’s no wonder the Indonesian government is still keen to open up travel to Bali again.
So is an Australia Bali tourism ‘bubble’ still on the cards? And if it is, when will a travel bubble likely occur, and what might it look like for Australian travellers? Here’s what we know so far.
What does an Australia Bali travel bubble mean?
Also referred to as “coronavirus corridors” or “travel bridges”, a travel bubble is a bilateral agreement between two or more countries which allow their citizens to travel freely without being subject to waiting periods.
Australia and New Zealand were among the first nations to discuss the possibility of such a travel agreement, as both countries showed promising early signs of containing the virus compared to other parts of the world.
The criteria differs from nation to nation, though New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern clarified that in order to implement quarantine-free travel, Australia would need to be free of community transmission for a period of 28 days.
“That is going to take a long time for Australia to get back to that place,” she said, following the latest spate of outbreaks across Victoria and New South Wales.
For an Australia Bali travel bubble to take place, both governments would need to be satisfied that travel between the two nations would not impose additional harm on its citizens.
The holiday island remains closed to international visitors for now. (iStock)When can Australians go to Bali?
Despite mass support for such a travel arrangement, based on what we currently know the earliest we’ll see a bubble between Australia and Bali will be 2021.
The Federal Government has long shrugged off notions that we might be ready for international travel before the end of the year, and that was even before Victoria moved to extend its state of emergency beyond the current six-month limit.
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Is it safe to go to Bali?
Not right now. The official line from Smart Traveller is that COVID-19 is widespread in Indonesia, and Australians are advised not to travel there — of course, defying recommendations would be virtually impossible anyway, given Indonesia are no longer extending expired visas or issuing new ones under new COVID-19 emergency arrangements.
Bali’s governor has now confirmed there will be no travel in or out of the nation due to still being in the “red zone category”, meaning there are still parts of the country considered extremely high risk for COVID-19 transmission.
As of Sunday night, Indonesia has reported a total amount of 153,535 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic — though the nation’s top epidemiologists have indicated the real figure could be as much as 10 times that amount.
Bali has fared better than many of its island neighbours, with Java among the worst affected regions. There is no single consensus on why Bali has managed the virus so well compared to other nearby regions, though some have put it down to the holiday island’s open-air design, and low-density population.
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Who will be allowed to travel to Bali?
It’s too early to say. Though with Aussie states squabbling over border restrictions, it’s not inconceivable to imagine a bubble that only applied to residents of Western Australia and Bali, given the proximity of the two regions and WA’s gleaming track record with managing the virus.
Can you fly from Australia to Bali?
In a word, no. In line with Australian government restrictions, all international flights are suspended until at least the end of October 2020. Beyond that is anyone’s guess, though it remains unlikely before 2021.