The Jakarta Post
A sign displayed on the entrance gate to Canggu Market, on Jl. Batu Bolong in Canggu, Bali, says the market will refuse entry to visitors who are not wearing a mask in keeping with the COVID-19 protocols. (JP/Mario Purba)
“I will leave Bali if there is ever a forced vaccination rule,” said a 31-year-old American woman who divides her time between Ubud and Canggu.
Martha (not her real name), believes that the COVID-19 vaccine should not be compulsory and that wearing masks will not make a difference in reducing infections. According to her, the disease has “a 99.9 percent recovery rate”.
She also claims that the majority of expatriates in Bali were both anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, and that they would leave Indonesia if mandatory vaccinations were imposed.
“Surely there will be doctors you can pay to give you a [vaccination] certificate if [the authorities] make it mandatory, no?” she said.
The pandemic has ravaged the country’s top holiday destination of Bali since the government banned international travel to the resort island last year.
Bali’s provincial economy relies heavily on tourism, yet it continues to see many foreigners, both residents and visitors, breaking the central government’s COVID-19 public health protocols.
In June 2020, provincial authorities deported Syrian national Barakeh Wissam for organizing a yoga gathering in Ubud. Around 60 people, mostly foreigners, attended the event in the village, which is known as the island’s cultural and spiritual center.
In January, Bali deported American national Kristen Gray after she published a Twitter post that encouraged foreigners to come to Indonesia during the pandemic, despite the international travel ban. Other tweets she posted caused uproar among Indonesian netizens, who lambasted her over “passport privilege”.
That same month, Russian influencer Sergey Kosenko was also deported after he held a party in Canggu, a popular beachfront destination in southern Bali.
Back to “Martha”, who says she isn’t concerned about a backlash from Indonesians over her controversial views.
“I personally wear my mask [in public], even though I do not agree with it. I do this out of respect for those who are in fear, since it makes them feel more comfortable,” she said, stressing that she was a guest in another country and would abide by the local rules.
She also revealed that she contracted COVID-19 in January and complied with the government’s 14-day quarantine in Jakarta, even though she felt it was “wildly unnecessary”.
When asked about her relationship with Indonesians, Martha mentioned her volunteer work and how she personally employed three Indonesians with “generous salaries” and provided them with money and food when they were struggling.
Foreigners do push-ups as a punishment for not wearing masks at roadside security post in Bali. The Bali provincial administration also imposes a Rp 100,000 (US$7) fine on anyone caught not wearing a mask. (Kompas.com/Courtesy of Satpol PP Badung)
Regardless, she is adamant about her anti-vaccination stance, which she shared frequently with her neighbors and friends in Bali.
“Bali would really be shooting themselves in the foot [if vaccination was mandatory for foreigners], since the majority of their expats are holistic health folks,” she said.
“The real issue is the mass fear and agenda the media is pushing.”
Not all foreigners
Separately, Julie, a 26-year-old Frenchwoman residing in Bali who asked to be referred to by just her given name, said that protecting public health was more important than any personal views.
While she personally preferred not to get the vaccine, she said the pandemic was an unprecedented event that had impacted not only public health, but also the global economy.
"This is why I am thinking about getting vaccinated, but I hope to have the choice to go back to Europe to be vaccinated in my home country with the vaccine of my choice," said Julie.
She was afraid of the idea that she might be forced to get “the Chinese vaccine”, because she felt it “came too fast”.
Julie was referring to Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac, which Bali has started administering to Indonesians in Bali, and was produced by China's Sinovac.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin confirmed on Feb. 28 that CoronaVac was being used in the government’s mass inoculation program.
The government has also approved the use of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, developed jointly by Germany and the United States, America’s Novavax vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the United Kingdom.
“As foreigners, we are not in our country, so at the very least, we have to respect the rules imposed by the host country," said Julie.
Stuart McDonald, a 50-year-old Australian writer who lives in Bali, acknowledged that, while most of his colleagues had no problems with following the health protocols, he had seen plenty of foreigners ignoring them, including wearing masks.
“Especially in Canggu and Ubud, both of which appear to be epicenters of this anti-masking idiocy movement,” he said.
On Feb. 27, McDonald posted a tweet on his @travelfish account about information circulating among expatriate groups on Facebook that Bali was allegedly planning to start fining mask-less foreigners US$100, and that they would be deported on their third offence.
According to McDonald, the alleged plan met with a backlash from many members of these Facebook groups.
Local law enforcement officers collect a fine from a foreign man caught not wearing a mask while riding a motorcycle in Bali, Indonesia's top tourist destination. (Tribun Bali/Zaenal Nur Arifin)
The province currently imposes a fine of Rp 100,000 ($7) on anyone who is caught not wearing a mask, whether Indonesian or non-Indonesian.
“Wearing a mask is the simplest thing to do. It isn’t like people are being asked to do something that is difficult,” McDonald.
“I’m normally against tiered pricing, but in this case, I think it is warranted,” he continued, saying that he thought the “three strikes and you’re out” policy was fair.
McDonald added that he often called out those who refused to wear a mask.
“If they don’t value their own health, they clearly don’t value mine either, so I say my piece and leave. I’m not going to waste my time debating with idiots,” he said.
American national Mike Shaw, 44, who lives in Kerobokan, Bali, said that he and his wife, also American, didn’t enter any businesses that did not require their customers to wear masks.
Like McDonald, he also called out other foreigners who refused to wear a mask in public. He said that he had no respect for such people.
“We are guests on this island and in this country, the least that we can do is try to not spread the virus among the Indonesians and Balinese people who welcome us and help us by working at their jobs,” said Shaw.
“The only reason [foreigners] don’t follow the rules is because [they] want to be disrespectful and/or want to lord [their] status over other people.”
Daniel Prasatyo, 41, the academic director of Saya Indonesia, cofounded the cultural center in January 2020 with several friends, offering an Indonesian language course for non-native speakers among its programs.
But after COVID-19 emerged in the country last March, Daniel and his team decided to offer only online Indonesian language courses for the time being.
While it was not ideal, Daniel said that holding the course online was safer than holding them in person.
“However, we have received enquiries from last April to [February 2021] from foreigners in Bali, particularly Ubud, who insisted on having in-person lessons at their homes or villas,” he said.
“I tried to explain that this was against the health protocols.
“One of them lectured me, telling me that all of this [COVID-19] was just a hoax and a conspiracy of the global elite, that Bill Gates wanted to plant microchips through the vaccines and therefore he created the virus,” Daniel added.
Another foreigner called Daniel and his team “paranoid”, while others simply told him that they would not take the language course unless it was delivered in person.
Daniel and his team ran background checks on the enquirers using social media to see whether their locations would fit their schedule. In doing so, they discovered that most of those who insisted on in-person lessons clearly did not believe that COVID-19 was real.
So, as academic director, Daniel decided that his team would not teach foreigners who did not care about the health and safety of Indonesians.
“They come here. They live here. With the power of the currency that they have, they can live a life that they can only dream of [in their own country]. However, they do not follow common sense and local regulations,” he said.
“It is very difficult for us language teachers to teach the Indonesian language to people who don't care about the land, the people or the culture where they live. Why should I be willing to give them communication skills? They could use the language as a weapon to do even worse things.”