People attend mass prayers in Bali. Reuters
Bali conducted mass prayers on Sunday as the Indonesian resort island prepares to reopen to tourists shut out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than a thousand people attended a prayer at Besakih Hindu temple in the town of Karangasem, expressing gratitude for the handling of the new coronavirus on the island and seeking blessings for the start of a "new normal".
Bali has reported 1,849 coronavirus infections and 20 deaths so far, while Indonesia as a whole has recorded 63,749 cases and 3,171 deaths since early March.
The idyllic Southeast Asian island will gradually reopen this month for domestic tourists, while maintaining a "strict health protocol" to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, Bali provincial secretary Dewa Made Indra told reporters.
The local government expects to reopen Bali to foreign arrivals in September. Tourism is Bali's main source of income.
Travel restrictions due to the pandemic have hammered the local economy. The occupancy rate at Bali's starred hotels plunged to 2.07% in May, according to Bali statistics bureau data, from 62.55% in December before the pandemic hit and down from 51.56% in May 2019.
"What I hope is the best for Bali and ... all the tourists will come to Bali and everybody will be happy and healthy again," Robin Tesselar, a Dutch citizen staying in Bali, told Reuters after attending the Besakih prayers.
Tourism-related businesses are preparing to for the reopening by implementing the health protocols, aiming to improve them until Bali reopens for international tourists, said hospitality executive Yoga Iswara.
With the worldwide death toll past 310,000 and the global economy reeling from the vast damage caused by lockdowns, the reopenings in some of the hardest-hit countries provided much-needed relief from the pandemic.
Under coronavirus restrictions in England, gatherings are limited to six people, even after Saturday when pubs and restaurants can reopen in the latest easing of the lockdown.
Thailand has begun a fifth phase of relaxations of COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the reopening of schools and high-risk entertainment venues .
Thanks to an aggressive, targeted testing programme and a centralised quarantine system, Vietnam has contained infections numbers to a relatively low 352 cases, most of whom have recovered. There have been no reported deaths.
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