When Ketut Suarsa Dipa, 41, heard about an outbreak caused by a new strain of coronavirus in China in January, he was not particularly concerned.
But as the virus, later called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and which causes the COVID-19 disease, spread fast across the globe and dramatically reduced the number of foreign tourists coming to Bali, the freelance driver began to worry about whether he would earn enough for his family and perhaps even the possibility of getting infected himself.
“Many customers have decided to cancel their trips to Bali. Most of them say that they decided to stay at home, because of worries about the virus,” said Suarsa, who is a father of three.
The Bali Immigration Office recorded 392,824 tourists arriving in February, a 33 percent drop from January, after the government imposed travel bans to and from mainland China on Feb. 5 to curb the spread of the outbreak. Australians replaced Chinese as the biggest number of foreign tourists last month, followed by India and Japan.
Only 4,820 Chinese tourists remained in Bali in February, decreasing significantly from 113,745 people the previous month.
Suarsa said that it was not only Chinese travelers who had stopped traveling to the island. “My customers [who had booked] from India, Bangladesh and South Korea also canceled their trips,” he said.
Suarsa said he felt grateful that tourists from Australia were still coming but given the wider travel restrictions imposed by Indonesia and other countries he is not sure that he can make a living driving tourists in the upcoming months.
Wayan Juni, 31, a resident of Kuta, voiced similar concerns as guests canceled bookings at her family homestay. Guests from Australia currently occupy two out of four rooms in her building, the two others have been empty since two guests from South Korea and the United States canceled their trips.
“[The homestay] is usually fully booked in March,” she said.
Tourism areas such as Kuta, Legian and Seminyak appear to be quiet. Many hotel staff members say they are worried about layoffs, as fewer guests are arriving.
Deputy Bali Governor Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati said several hotels had reduced shifts to cut employment costs. “We understand this is because some hotels depend on Chinese tourists, and the occupancy rates have dropped to only 5 percent, and even zero,” said Ardana, who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association’s (PHRI) Bali chapter.
He said the drop in foreign tourist numbers had cost the tourist sector Rp 50 billion (US$3.53 million) per day, and he fears the worst is yet to come.
“I’m worried that other countries will ban travel to Indonesia,” said Ardana, expressing hope that Australia would not impose any travel restrictions on Bali.
Bali Tourism Agency head Putu Astawa said that aside from Australia, tourists from Europe were still coming and they mostly stayed in Sanur.
A Chinese man tested positive for the virus early in February, eight days after returning from Bali. He departed on Lion Air flight JT2618 from Wuhan — the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak — to Bali on Jan. 22. He took Garuda Indonesia flight GA858 from Denpasar to Shanghai on Jan. 28 and checked into a hotel in Shanghai at 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 29.
The Indonesian authorities have played down the possibility that he was infected with the virus while on the island.
“We also know that he got in a taxi or other public transportation upon returning to Shanghai on Jan. 28. He might have been infected there,” said Achmad Yurianto, a Health Ministry spokesperson.
The provincial administration, however, has since increased surveillance to keep the island free from the virus. It has prepared mitigation systems and applied World Health Organization standards.