For two solid years during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bali was closed to the world, causing many of us to leave and go home to our countries of origin.
I travelled back to the UK from Bali as it closed down to tourists — here is what it was like to be back in England during the pandemic and what it feels like to re-visit Bali now.
Bali is joyfully embracing visitors once again, but for a difficult two years, the world’s favourite holiday island was in tatters due to the pandemic.
In 2019, I was having a detox treatment at our resort— the glorious, facial, and famously deep Balinese massage was one reason why I was here in Bali. And when my husband told me we should leave Bali right now or get stuck here during the lockdown, it felt like we had no choice but to return back home to the UK.
“Many tourism businesses in the once vibrant tourist centres of Kuta, Seminyak, and Nusa Dua are gone,” he told me. “Because Bali is highly dependent on tourism, dozens of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and villas are empty or abandoned as a result of COVID’s impact.”
We left just in time. International flights to and from Bali were closed due to the pandemic from April 2020, and the island was hit hard during our absence. Tourism usually accounts for 60 percent of Bali’s economy, and the closure costs thousands of workers their jobs.
Life back in England was tough too. It was hard to believe that my own country had imposed the most stringent and long-lasting pandemic restrictions in Europe, and the vast majority of Brits complained that they weren’t strict enough!
The state’s response to the virus was a catastrophe for Britain. There was a loss of years of education for children. Sovereign debt soared, and small businesses were destroyed. We could see that mental health also declined, and domestic abuse escalated.
The public-health authorities in England implemented three full-scale lockdowns during our stay. In March 2020, the first lockdown began with the intention of “flattening the curve” of hospitalisations and preventing overburdening of the health care system. During the long summer, we saw really strong measures in some areas.
More regional suppression followed until we Brits were allowed to celebrate a single Christmas day! But once again, a complex “tier system” was implemented in the autumn, which attempted to link infection rates to levels of restriction.
And then, in early January 2021—another lockdown began for almost four months. It was soul-destroying. To make matters worse, most English police forces established online forms for reporting lockdown breaches, encouraging our citizens to snitch on their neighbours.
It took only three days for them to receive “hundreds” of public reports about neighbours who had gone out for a run twice in one day, and UK Prime Minister Johnson came up with an idea for local councils to hire Citizen Marshals to harass non-compliant citizens.
Needless to say, we were eagerly awaiting news from the government allowing us to leave. Health Minister Sajid Javid finally eased lockdown rules in England on 19th July 2021. So, my husband and I researched flight options straight away. Fully vaccinated, and packed, we were already prepared for the green light.
After a difficult two-year closure, Bali joyfully embraced foreign visitors once again on 16th February 2022, with the first international passenger flight to our favourite holiday island.
Even with an increase in COVID-19 cases, Indonesia was sticking to its decision to open Bali to foreign tourists, saying the move would boost the national economy and set an example for the rest of the country. Amid an Omicron-driven third wave of infections, we didn’t give it a second thought, booking one of the first flights out of the UK.
Arriving again after the COVID-19 pandemic, the sweet locals had not lost an ounce of their renowned warmth and loving hospitality during our separation. If anything, they were even more welcoming and enthusiastic about having tourists in their paradise once again.
Entering Indonesia, we got a visa on arrival for Rp 500,000 and extended our visa once (for a maximum of 30 days) at an immigration office within Indonesia. Returning to my happy place, the island rapidly woke up, and of course, development didn’t halt during COVID.
It has been an extremely hard couple of years for the many who rely on tourism to feed their families–although their smiles would lead you to believe otherwise. You will find that masks are still required at times, but in open-air restaurants, and public spaces people have loosened their mask-wearing rules.
We are so happy to be back in Bali, it feels like the pandemic is truly in the past.