As the Indonesian province, which suffered the most economically as a result of the GDP pandemic last year, fell by 9.31 percent, Bali took precedence over the deployment plan of the COVID-19 vaccine in Indonesia, allowing the island to open up to international tourism as soon as possible.
About 71 percent of the island’s population had one dose of vaccine and 19 percent both, compared to only 22.5 percent and 9.7 percent nationally.
But there is a clear gap in the island’s vaccination program: about 110,000 people – mostly Westerners – who are concentrated in the Canggu surf and nightlife center, and although they are very mobile and sociable, but have little access to vaccines. has.
Infectious disease experts have warned that the gap threatens to create a new COVID-19 hotspot at a time when hospitals in Bali already have 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 formulate Indonesia’s pandemic response plan for more than 20 years. ‘You do not need 110,000 vaccines to create an infection sac – 1,000 is enough.
Budiman said the Indonesian government “should consider the entire population for vaccination, regardless of their citizenship or visa status to protect the entire community”.
The most senior virologist of Bali, Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, professor at the University of Udayana, agreed.
‘These foreigners must be included. In the US, there is now a pandemic among the un-vaccinated. “
Neither the provincial government of Bali nor the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Indonesia has been officially closed to foreign tourists since the start of the pandemic. But in the last 12 months, hundreds of thousands of people from Russia, Europe and the Americas have managed to enter the country with social or business visas issued at Indonesian embassies abroad. They are regularly arranged by visa agents in Bali who charge hundreds of dollars to provide all the necessary documentation, including the names and addresses of de-facto “sponsors” for these visas. Last week, however, the back door closed and foreigners with social or business visas can no longer enter Indonesia.
Foreigners with such short-term visas are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in Indonesia to protect supplies.
Only those with work permits, pension visas or representatives from abroad can get a stump through the free government system or “gotong royong” – a private vaccination scheme funded by employers. The shortage is so sharp that the French government announced on July 20 that it would send vaccines for its citizens to Indonesia.
“Hospitals in Bali did offer vaccines to tourists for a short time, but now most are turned down,” says Stuart McDonald, the Australian publisher of the travel website Travelfish, which is based in Bali.
“So, now we have a situation with a lot of unvaccinated people concentrating in an area where COVID is virulent.”
The problem is exacerbated by mistrust of Sinovac, the vaccine developed in China that underwent in Indonesia in the late stages and is now the backbone of the country’s vaccination program.
There are also a large number of so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’ whose opinions reflect the eclectic roots of tourism in Bali, which developed from a ‘hippie’ destination in the seventies to the leading wellness destination in the region.
“I believe that building my own immune system is worth the shot, as long as you are healthy and have no medical conditions,” said a longtime U.S. alien who is eligible for a vaccine in Bali. their name is withheld.
‘I’ve always been the one to choose what I put in my body, and since I’ve studied Ayurveda and natural medicine, it’s against my personal policy to take a vaccine. I never even buy anything at the pharmacy, ”said a tourist from Estonia who also spoke on condition of anonymity because her opinions contradicted Indonesian health policy and could offend.
But some anti-vaxxer expats on the island have no trouble expressing their opinion.
‘Fuck it, you stupid fools. It’s such a very funny joke, ” Dave Driskell, an American fitness influencer and gym instructor in Canggu, wrote on the Instagram page of Sinamon Bali, a local bakery that offered free coffee to vaccinated customers.
‘Your food is covered with sugar, while 78 percent of the deaths in Covid were obese. I [sic] and my business does not support you. You are the problem. ”
Driskell later deleted his comments after shouting on social media.
Virus does not discriminate
Experts in infectious diseases have consistently said that governments to ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, from migrant workers to refugees and minority groups.
As Dr Teldros Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization repeatedly said, “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”
A quantitative ecologist studying the dynamics of infectious diseases at James Cook University in Australia, Jamie Caldwell said it is dangerous to ignore any part of the population during a vaccine deployment.
‘Leaving 110,000 people living in a small area could make Canggu a hotspot for COVID and create more resilient tribes. Look at what happens in the UK with a partially vaccinated population, ” he said, referring to the situation in the UK where 56.7 per cent of the population is vaccinated but more than 30,000 new infections are confirmed every day.
“What’s going to happen in Canggu will depend on a lot of things, including the group’s interaction with the rest of the population and their demographic composition,” Caldwell said.
“In my opinion, it’s worthwhile to plead that everyone in Indonesia has the opportunity to get vaccinated. Because by ignoring a group of individuals, the entire population is more susceptible to transmission. “
India’s leading virologist, Shahid Jameel at Ashoka University, also believed that Indonesia was making a mistake by not including tourists in Bali’s vaccination strategy.
“The virus does not discriminate and neither should vaccination,” he said. “More distribution opportunities also provide more opportunity for new variants.”