Can unvaccinated tourists in Bali create new COVID hot spots? | Coronavirus pandemic news

As the Indonesian province most severely affected by the pandemic, its GDP dropped by 9.31% last year. Bali has been given priority in Indonesia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, so the resort island can be reopened to international tourism as soon as possible.

Approximately 71% of the population on the island have received one dose of vaccine, and 19% have received two vaccines, compared with only 22.5% and 9.7% nationwide.

But there is a clear gap in the vaccination plan on the island: about 110,000 people (mainly Westerners) are concentrated in the surfing and nightlife center of Canggu. Although they are mobile and sociable, there is almost no access to vaccines.

Infectious disease experts warn that this gap may create new hot spots for COVID-19 when Bali’s hospitals are already operating at full capacity. On Friday, the island reported 1,365 new cases and 37 deaths.

“This is a very worrying situation,” said Dr. Dicky Budiman, a virologist who has helped develop Indonesia’s pandemic response plan for more than 20 years. “You don’t need 110,000 unvaccinated people to create an infected zone-1,000 people are enough.

Budiman said that the Indonesian government “should consider vaccinating all the population, regardless of their citizenship or visa status, in order to protect the entire community”.

Bali has been working quickly to vaccinate its population, but experts worry that a group of foreigners-mainly Westerners on short-term visas-are excluded from the plan, which may make the island vulnerable to new outbreaks. The impact of the outbreak [File: Firdia Lisnawati/AP Photo]

Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, Bali’s most senior virologist and professor at Udayana University, agreed.

“These foreigners should be included. In the United States, there is now an epidemic among unvaccinated people.”

Neither the Bali Provincial Government nor the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Anti-vaxxer cluster

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Indonesia has officially closed to foreign tourists. However, in the past 12 months, hundreds of thousands of people from Russia, Europe and the Americas have successfully entered the country through social or business visas issued by Indonesian embassies abroad. They are usually organized by visa agents in Bali and charge hundreds of dollars to provide all the required documents, including the name and address of the de facto “sponsor” of these visas. However, last week, the back door was closed and foreigners holding social or business visas could no longer enter Indonesia.

Foreigners holding such short-term visas are not eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Indonesia to protect supplies.

Only people with work permits, retirees visas or foreign representatives can be vaccinated through free government programs or “gotong royong” (a private vaccination program funded by employers). The shortage is so severe that the French government announced on July 20 that it would deliver vaccines to Indonesia for its citizens.

Stuart McDonald, the Australian publisher of Travelfish, a travel website living in Bali, said: “Bali hospitals did provide vaccines to tourists in a short period of time, but most of them are now rejected.”

“So now our situation is that many unvaccinated people are concentrated in areas where COVID is toxic.”

There are also a large number of anti-vaccineists in Bali, and their views reflect the eclectic roots of tourism on the island. [Bali Firdia Lisnawati/AP]

As the vaccine developed by China undergoes late-stage trials in Indonesia and is now the mainstay of the country’s vaccination plan, the distrust of China Xingye has made the problem worse.

There are also a large number of so-called “anti-vaccine people” Their views reflect the eclectic roots of tourism in Bali, which evolved from a “hippie” destination in the 1970s to a leading health destination in the region.

A long-time American expatriate who is eligible for vaccination in Bali said: “I believe that building your own immune system is equivalent to vaccination, as long as you are healthy and have no previous medical history.” Detained.

“I’ve always been a drug that I choose to put in my body. Considering that I have studied Ayurveda and natural medicines, vaccination violates my personal policy. I never even buy anything from a pharmacy,” said an Estonian The tourist said that she also did not want to be named because her opinion contradicts Indonesia’s health policy and may cause offense.

But some anti-vaxxer expats on the island did not hesitate to say what they thought.

“Fuck this, you nasty fools. This is a big joke,” Dave Driskell, an American fitness influencer and fitness instructor based in Canggu, wrote on Sinamon Bali’s Instagram page. Sinamon Bali is a vaccinating company. A local bakery where customers offer free coffee.

“In the case that 78% of Covid deaths have obesity problems, distribute your sugar-coated food. I [sic] My business does not support you. You are the problem. “

Driscoll later deleted his comments after being strongly protested on social media.

The stall owner of Ubud Central Market, once bustling with excitement, is now almost empty [Al Jazeera]

Virus does not discriminate

Infectious disease experts have always said that in order to fight the virus, the government must ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, from migrant workers to refugees and minorities.

As Dr. Teldros Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization I have said many times, “Only everyone is safe, otherwise no one is safe.”

Jamie Caldwell, a quantitative ecologist who studies the dynamics of infectious diseases at James Cook University in Australia, said it is dangerous to ignore any population during the vaccine launch.

“Allowing 110,000 people to live in a small area may cause Canggu to become a hot spot for COVID and more resistant strains. Look at the vaccinations in parts of the UK population,” he said, referring to 56.7% of the UK population. The population is vaccinated, but more than 30,000 new infections are confirmed every day.

“What happens to Canggu depends on many things, including the degree of interaction between the group and other populations and their demographic composition,” Caldwell said.

“In my opinion, it is worth advocating that everyone in Indonesia has the opportunity to be vaccinated. Because ignoring any one group, the whole group is more vulnerable to transmission.”

India’s top virologist and Shahid Jameel of Ashoka University also believes that Indonesia’s failure to include tourists in Bali’s vaccination strategy was a mistake.

“The virus does not discriminate, nor should vaccination,” he said. “More communication opportunities also provide more opportunities for new variants.”

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