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.”
To 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”.
Some 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.”
James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions, won a Kennedy Award for outstanding foreign correspondent and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue.
Amilia Rosa is Assistant Indonesia Correspondent.