The Jakarta Post
To contain the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Bali administration ordered people to stay at home on Thursday for the normally bustling festival of Ngembak Geni, the day after Nyepi (Hindu Day of Silence), during which Balinese people traditionally throng the island’s beaches and public places in celebration.
The resort island has reported at least nine confirmed COVID-19 cases with two deaths, a relatively small number compared to Jakarta, which has more than 500 cases and 40 deaths. Scientists, however, believe the province may have underreported its cases and that thousands of infected people may have gone undetected.
In a first, the police and the pecalang (traditional Balinese security officers) were deployed to enforce the order on Thursday.
The island was uncharacteristically quiet during this year’s Ngembak Geni. Tourist sites, malls, shops, traditional markets and banks were all closed. Only ambulances and emergency vehicles were seen on the streets. Pecalang periodically stopped people from entering or exiting villages.
“We are urging all people not to leave their houses to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Nengah Dira, a pecalang from Sumerta village, said.
The Balinese administration had previously advised people to practice physical distancing, but on Thursday it chose to make the policy mandatory. The strict policy, issued on March 23, however, will apply only on Ngembak Geni, after which residents are merely advised to practice physical distancing.
“The fast spread of COVID-19 should be responded to with caution and should be anticipated to prevent more victims. The most effective prevention strategy is to limit outdoor activities and social interaction,” Bali Governor Wayan Koster said.
Regents and mayors across Bali also issued similar policies on Thursday. Some of them even closed access to their regions.
Ida Penglingsir Agung Putra Sukahet, who heads the Bali Grand Council of Customary Villages, endorsed the policy to “extend” the Day of Silence, saying it was needed to stop the spread of the virus.
“We hope people will follow it. It’s for our safety,” he said, adding that family gatherings could now take place on Whatsapp.
While some residents supported the policy, others found it excessive. Kadek Dewi, an employee at a private hospital in Denpasar, had to argue with the pecalang before she could go to work after being told to provide a letter showing that she was, in fact, a hospital employee. “I work at a hospital. Patients need food,” she said.
The Russian Embassy in Jakarta sent a letter to the Bali governor on Thursday asking him to exempt a number of Russian tourists scheduled for a flight to Moscow that day. “Many of our [citizens] cannot go to the airport to board the flight,” Russian Ambassador Liudmila Vorobieva said in the letter.
Some tourists were still seen enjoying their holiday on the beaches in front of the hotels where they were staying.
Despite the enforced physical distancing policy, Gilimanuk seaport and Gusti Ngurah Rai airport were still operating.
"Bali airport is operating normally today, with 171 scheduled flights," the airport’s spokesperson, Arie Ahsanurrohim, said.
Bali declared an “alert” security status on March 15 in response to the outbreak, asking schools to hold classes online and civil servants to work from home. On March 17, the Indonesian Hindu Religious Council ordered a limitation on religious festivals such as ogoh-ogoh (spirit effigy) processions.
These policies were followed by the administration’s decision to close major tourist destinations across the island.