Australians not rushing back to Indonesia as economy reopens

Australian businesses are unpersuaded by President Joko Widodo’s plans to reopen the economy for business, with trade slumping and few signs that travel restrictions will be eased any time soon.And while the Indonesian government has flagged it could begin winding back some restrictions as soon as early June, some business people are reluctant to return because of uncertainty about the true number of infections in the country and the standards of the health care system.Dane Herden, owner of the Celebrity Ink Tattoo Bali studio, left the island in March to return to Australia and doesn’t know when he will be able to return and reopen his business.On Thursday, Indonesia recorded 973 new cases of the virus, a new record high for single-day infections. It has now had a total of 20,162 cases with 1278 deaths – the highest in south-east Asia – and while 154,139 people have now been tested, this figure is proportionally much lower than the numbers in neighbouring countries.Bali reported three new cases on Thursday, taking the holiday island’s total to 374, yet officials have suggested they could begin reopening one of Australians’ favourite tourist hot spots from July.At present, tourist visas are not being issued and people who are given permission to travel to Indonesia have to quarantine for two weeks when they arrive.Even if or when the visa restrictions ease, Australian travellers would also have to quarantine in a hotel when they return to Australia.Dane Herden, the Australian owner of Celebrity Ink Tattoo Bali studio, returned to the Gold Coast when the virus began to take hold in early March and has not yet returned.”Who is going to want to go to Bali for 10 days and then quarantine for 14 days when they get home,” Herden said.Herden’s thriving business ground to a halt in mid-March, he said, and 30 staff have been stood down- with the promise they would get their jobs back when it was safe to re-open the studio.”I’m praying for January 2021 (overseas travel restrictions easing) because I don’t think I can last beyond that,” Herden said. “I don’t think people understand. This hasn’t just set us back one year, it could be two or three years.”Dane Herden with local employees before his business shut down in March.Credit:Amilia RosaTo date, the Australian government has given every indication the ban on overseas travel will remain in place until the end of the year at least, with New Zealand likely to be the first country opened up to Australians and, down the track, perhaps Singapore.Essential workers can travel upon application to the Home Affairs department, as can people seeking permission on compassionate grounds and those seeking medical treatment.Phil Turtle, the president of the Australia-Indonesia Business Council, says “businesses are making their own judgements on whether they are happy to let their staff continue in Indonesia while this is playing out”.LoadingSome Australian businesses have kept staff in country, but about two-thirds of the 180 Australians working in the Jakarta embassy and three consulates have left. In April, there were an estimated 3000 Australian tourists in Indonesia and about 7000 permanent residents, but that number has since fallen.With the Indonesia-Australia free trade deal due to come into effect from July 5, Turtle said businesses were adapting how they worked – such as by ramping up their reliance on video conferencing – to take advantage of new business opportunities.”From an Australian business point of view, as terrible as the situation is, there are opportunities in that it [the trade deal] opens up new opportunities s in terms of e-commerce, e-learning for example”.Emilio Sacco, the general manager of Simply Stainless – a Perth-headquartered business that manufactures commercial kitchens for export in Surabaya – said the company had no orders for the first time in its 23-year history.”What we produce at Simply Stainless, it’s for restaurants, bars, hotels, pubs and clubs – all over the world and they have all shut down. Hospitality is one of the hardest hit industries around the world.”The company has granted its 100 staff in Surabaya an extra week of holidays over Ramadan, and when work resumes in two weeks, only half the employees will come in each week.”We have no intention of putting anyone off”, said Sacco.Sacco would typically travel to Indonesia every month or so for one to two weeks, but he has no plans to return to Surabaya any time soon.”I won’t be going until it is absolutely safe to go there, I’m not prepared to put my health at risk and my family’s health – and I don’t think my company would either as a duty of care.”Sign up to our Coronavirus Update newsletterGet our Coronavirus Update newsletter for the day’s crucial developments at a glance, the numbers you need to know and what our readers are saying. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here and The Age’s here.Most Viewed in WorldLoading
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