Australians in Bali who don’t want to go home
Tourist beaches are technically closed under current restrictions, but most actually remain open and are frequented by surfers and others enjoying the sand and sun.
Kuta and Legian are quiet, but in the Canggu area in particular, where most of Bali’s over 100,000 foreigners spend their time, a majority of restaurants, cafes, and hotels are operating.
The island, which was visited by 1.3 million Australians in 2019, has not been immune to the devastating wave of the virus that has swept through Indonesia in the past two months, causing country the new epicenter of the pandemic.
New daily infections have risen to more than 1,000 and the official number of virus deaths now exceeds 2,000, with a record 47 deaths in the 24 hours to Monday. As the hospital bed occupancy rate reached 75%, Bali Governor Wayan Koster started producing oxygen in the province to make sure it did not suffer from the kind of catastrophic shortages that have occurred elsewhere in Indonesia.
“The type of people who live here are people who love Indonesia because it looks more like a free country.”
Tom Merrett, owner of a real estate company in Lombok
But while Bali struggles to contain the current wave and its economy has taken a hit, it has the advantage of having been a priority in the deployment of the vaccine in Indonesia in a bid to revive tourism. He administered at least one dose of the vaccine to 3 million people, or 70% of the population, while nearly a million received both injections.
Frank Andrews, a Victorian who has lived in Bali for 20 years and owns an agency that helps foreigners obtain visas, says the grim picture of expatriate life right now does not match reality.
“The way you hear it is that there are roadblocks everywhere. There are only two roadblocks on the whole island, ”he said.
“At this stage, if you scored my life out of 10, I’m living a 7.5 or 8. It’s a pretty good life compared to our counterparts in Sydney and Melbourne.
“Other than wearing a mask, which I got used to, life is pretty good. “
Not everyone has been so attentive to these COVID-19 regulations. Since the virus first took hold last year, there has been no shortage of local headlines and TV reports about foreigners breaking the rules.
The list of culprits is said to be led by Russians, whose numbers are unmatched by other nationalities after a recent influx, including digital nomads working for fintechs.
The most notable exiles were two Russian and US-Taiwanese social media influencers who broke protocols when one filmed the other walking into a supermarket with a painted mask.
However, “99% of us are doing the right thing,” says Andrews.
Masks are also a way of life in Lombok, a 20-minute flight east of Bali, but they haven’t stopped Australians living up there and weathering the pandemic.
Tom Merrett, who runs a real estate company there, has been able to continue to enjoy outdoor recreation such as golf and surfing and has been traveling to Indonesia for much of the past year.
“I got to fly over Indonesia and enjoy some really memorable surf trips to places like the Mentawais last year,” he said.
Merrett, from Sydney’s North Beaches, feared the pandemic would be a big blow to his business, but says it has improved.
“Short-term package tourism has obviously taken a hard hit, but the longer-term trend for people to be able to settle in these places and work remotely is filling the void,” he said.
“People in expensive cities like Singapore or Sydney, for example, which make up a large part of my clientele, they’re stuck wondering if a big city is worth it for them, and they buy land in Lombok with a view. to work remotely in the future.
With visas having been extended by the Indonesian government and vaccines accessible in an attempt to jumpstart international tourism to Bali, Merrett says it’s no wonder expats are eager to stay rather than return to live in what many considered to be a “nanny state” before the pandemic in Australia.
“The type of people who live here are people who love Indonesia because it looks more like a free country. More like the Australia a lot of us grew up in, in some ways.
“And to be honest, with the Indonesian government intervening to provide vaccines to foreigners, we think they took care of us, which is certainly a feeling we don’t have for the Australian government.”
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