Tragic photos reveal Bali's ongoing Covid struggle after borders open

·News Editor
·4-min read

Australians returning to Bali after being locked out for two years have been shocked by the devastating impact of Covid in one of the island’s most popular regions.

In early February, Indonesia reopened Bali to all foreign tourists who had received at least two Covid vaccine doses.

And while the open borders were reason to celebrate for thousands of travellers, many visitors to the once-bustling Kuta region were left heartbroken by the dramatic change to the tourist landscape.

A Melbourne woman holidaying in Bali shared photos of an all but abandoned laneway that was once crowded with tourists, restaurants, shops and street food vendors.

Tourists stand outside a colourful clothing shop as scooters drive past in Bali.
Tourists and scooters crowd the corner of a Bali street in 2017. Source: Google Maps
The once-busy Bali laneway is now deserted and empty.
Five years later, the shops are closed and the street is empty. Source: Google Maps

"Took a walk down memory lane, visiting Gang Poppies I. So sad to see this once bustling lane, usually so full of atmosphere and life, reduced to a ghost town," she wrote.

"Buildings crumbling with neglect, businesses boarded up and the street literally overgrown."

Before and after photos of the area taken from Google Maps show restaurant entrances now boarded up and covered in thick overgrown vines.

A photo from 2017 shows tourists crowding a street corner wearing Hawaiian shirts as scooters zip past. A surfboard shop and a colourful clothing store can be seen in the background. Five years later, every doorway is shuttered closed with not a soul in sight.

Gang Poppies I in Bali in 2017, with shops and restaurants open for business.
Dozens of eateries were once thriving along the laneway. Source: Google Maps
Vines grow over the entrance to one former business on a laneway in Kuta, Bali.
Now, boarded up business are being taken over by vines. Source: Google Maps

“Omg this is terrible. Prayers that it will come back. Many memories of walking down Poppies 1. So, so sad,” one woman wrote.

“Seeing this is just horrid. No one knew in 2019 what lay ahead. They were hard hit, no business, no Centrelink, no food etc,” another said.

One person said they missed "the old days" when streets were so crowded they had to "yell at each other" for space to park their scooters.

Other areas still open for business

Though the streets of Kuta resemble a ghost town, other parts of the island are thriving.

Locals shared that areas like Canggu, Seminyak, Berawa Beach and Ubud were open and ready for tourists.

Several people wrote that they moved out of Kuta to other areas, including Canggu 40 minutes to the north, in an attempt to return to a normal life.

Market stalls show clothes and bags for sale in Kuta.
Market-style stalls flourished in the area popular with tourists. Source: Google Maps
A once-busy laneway is now empty and abandoned after years of Covid lockdowns. Source: Google Maps
Covid lockdowns have resulted in the closing of markets and businesses in Kuta. Source: Google Maps

Poignant warning as Aussies return to Bali

An Australian man warned of a potential increase in deadly methanol poisonings as Bali reopened.

Colin Ahearn has become a leading voice in raising awareness of methanol poisoning in Bali, with unsuspecting holidaymakers regularly falling severely ill as a result, or in extreme cases, losing their lives.

"I hope I'm wrong, but I reckon it's going to get real with poisonings once quarantine ends," he told Yahoo News Australia.

Methanol poisoning often occurs when tourist bars look to cut costs and opt for bootleg liquors, which regularly pose as the real thing behind the bar.

Methanol is a byproduct of distillation which is often left behind when drinks are not made professionally, and its odourless presence makes it near impossible to detect.

He fears with the crippling force of the Covid-19 pandemic on Bali's tourism industry, poisonings will increase with a higher percentage of the hospitality industry now unable to afford genuine spirits.

"My fear is people are going to go back there like it's their first time in Bali," he said in a new message to holidaymakers.

"Cocktails are going to be cheap and they're going to get on the piss like it's their first time they've ever drunk, and they're going to end up dead."

Bali is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Australians, with 1.23 million Australians visiting the island in 2019 prior to the pandemic. The island's economy remains heavily dependent on tourism.

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