“if I am really sick, health insurance will allow me to go back to Australia to seek medical help,” he says.
“If you look at the situation now, the beach is open. … I believe that the Balinese government and health system has got it under control and they are taking precautions to keep it under control, so I feel safe.”
When Australia banned international travel, Ryan weighed the risk of staying in Australia for work but possibly not seeing his family for months.
“Now I am here, I am happy to be with my family. So happy,” he says.
“If I was stuck in Australia and couldn’t see my family, wow – I would be so upset. So stressed.”
Although Ryan hasn’t worked for more than two months now, he isn’t particularly worried about money due to the lower cost of living in Indonesia.
“I could live in Bali for another six months easily without working,” he says.
“Rent is cheaper here, living expenses are cheaper and I am not picky. I can eat any Indonesian food. A small bottled water in Australia could cost 10 times [what it does] in Bali; a simple dish like fried rice or whatever could cost you $10 a plate” compared to as little as $1 in Bali.
Months after being grounded, Ryan met up with his friend Paul Sage – a 58-year-old retiree from New South Wales who has also decided to stay in Bali – to share some Bintang beers on the famous Kuta Beach as the sun went down.
Sage, like Ryan, says he feels safe in Bali and has no plans to return to Australia. Both men insist there is “no way” the coronavirus is out of control here.
“If you are fit and strong and you are careful, it’s good,” Sage says.
“Look around: there are so many people. Everyone missed the beach.”
Bali’s beaches were closed by the provincial government but locals had already begun to return ahead of an official re-opening on Thursday.
Sage and Ryan are exceptions to the rule. Thousands of Australian expats and tourists have left Indonesia to return home.
In April, there were an estimated 3000 Australian tourists and 7000 Australian permanent residents in Indonesia. Those numbers have fallen as the pandemic has begun to take hold in Australia’s populous neighbouring country.
Tourism in Bali has been smashed: hotel occupancy rates have fallen to single figures, the economy is struggling and businesses are shuttering under the weight of a travel ban imposed by the central government in Jakarta.
Bali Governor I Wayan Koster this week announced a timeline to begin re-opening tourist destinations on the holiday island under a so-called “new normal” policy.
Local tourists will be able to visit beaches, temples and other sites from the end of July, and foreign tourists are set to be able to visit the island from September 11.
Those international visitors will, however, only be allowed in if the national government also relaxes its current travel restrictions.
As of Tuesday, Bali – an island of about 4.3 million people – had recorded 1940 cases of COVID-19 and 25 related deaths.
After initial success in limiting the outbreak, Bali’s caseload increased four-fold in June and the countrywide infection rate doubled to a touch over 60,000 cases.
The island has the second-highest testing rate of any province in Indonesia, at an average of 7642 tests per million people, behind only Jakarta’s 21,145 tests per million.
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.