Back to Bali – Expatriate in Indonesia
For two solid years during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bali was closed to the world, forcing many of us to leave and return home to our home countries.
I returned to the UK from Bali when it was closed to tourists – here’s what it was like to be back in England during the pandemic and what it’s like to revisit Bali now.
Bali is once again happily welcoming visitors, but for two difficult years the world’s favorite vacation island was in tatters due to the pandemic.
In 2019 I was undergoing detox treatment at our resort – the glorious, facial and famously deep Balinese massage was one of the reasons I was here in Bali. And when my husband told me we had to leave Bali straight away or get stuck here during lockdown, we felt like we had no choice but to go home to the UK.
“Many tourist businesses in the once vibrant tourist hubs of Kuta, Seminyak and Nusa Dua have disappeared,” he told me. “Because Bali is heavily dependent on tourism, dozens of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and villas are empty or abandoned due to the impact of COVID.”
We left just in time. International flights to and from Bali were closed due to the April 2020 pandemic, and the island was hit hard while we were away. Tourism typically accounts for 60% of Bali’s economy and the shutdown is costing thousands of workers their jobs.
Life in England was also difficult. It was hard to believe that my own country had imposed the toughest and longest-lasting pandemic restrictions in Europe, and the vast majority of Britons complained that they weren’t tough enough!
The state’s response to the virus has been a disaster for Britain. There has been a loss of years of education for the children. Sovereign debt soared and small businesses were destroyed. We have seen that mental health has also declined and domestic violence has escalated.
Public health authorities in England implemented three large-scale lockdowns during our stay. In March 2020, the first containment began with the intention of “flatten the curve» hospitalizations and prevent overloading of the healthcare system. During the long summer, we have seen really strong measures in some areas.
Further regional cuts followed until we Brits were allowed to celebrate just one Christmas day! But again, a complex “tier system” was put in place in the fall, which attempted to link infection rates to restriction levels.
And then, at the beginning of January 2021, another confinement began for almost four months. It was soul destroying. To make matters worse, most police forces in England have set up online forms to report lockdown breaches, encouraging our citizens to report their neighbours.
It only took them three days to receive”hundredsfrom public reports of neighbors going out for a run twice in one day, and British Prime Minister Johnson came up with the idea of local councils hiring citizen marshals to harass non-compliant citizens.
Needless to say, we were eagerly awaiting news from the government allowing us to leave. Health Minister Sajid Javid finally eased lockdown rules in England on July 19, 2021. So my husband and I immediately researched flight options. Fully vaccinated and packed, we were already ready for the green light.
After a difficult two-year closure, Bali happily welcomed foreign visitors once again on February 16, 2022, with the first international passenger flight to our favorite vacation island.
Even with a rise in COVID-19 cases, Indonesia was sticking to its decision to open Bali to foreign tourists, saying the move would boost the national economy and set an example for the rest of the country. In the midst of a third wave of infections brought on by Omicron, we gave it no thought when booking one of the first flights from the UK.
Arrived again after the COVID-19 pandemic, the gentle locals had not lost an ounce of their renowned warmth and hospitality during our separation. On the contrary, they were even more welcoming and enthusiastic about having tourists in their paradise again.
Upon entering Indonesia, we obtained a visa on arrival for Rp 500,000 and extended our visa once (for a maximum of 30 days) at an immigration office in Indonesia. Back in my happy place, the island woke up quickly and, of course, development didn’t stop during COVID.
These two years have been extremely difficult for those who rely on tourism to feed their families, even if their smiles would lead you to believe otherwise. You will find that masks are still sometimes necessary, but in outdoor restaurants and public spaces, people have relaxed their mask-wearing rules.
We are so happy to be back in Bali, it feels like the pandemic really is a thing of the past.
By Skye Laphroaig