Time to jolt the Tourism Sector out of its Coma?

29
Time to jolt the Tourism Sector out of its Coma?

Prospect and Strategy
Indonesia’s tourism is predicted to boom in the fourth quarter of 2021, as restrictions are eased. The Institute for Development of Economic and Finance (INDEF) noted that the sector plays an important role in the economy. Before the pandemic, it contributed an average of $20 billion in
foreign exchange every year and employed 13 million workers, or 10.2 percent of the total workforce. The decline in daily cases and a higher vaccination uptake will help the tourism sector recover. The rebound will also have a spillover effort on other associated industries.

To support the tourism industry, the government has disbursed Rp3.3 trillion in relief grants last year and another Rp3.7 trillion in the third quarter of 2021. The grants will be divided into two chunks: 70 percent
as direct assistance to hotels and restaurants, and 30 percent to alleviate the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 to the tourism and creative economy sector. The Ministry also strives to accelerate vaccination uptake
among those involved in the sector, as an important first step for gradual reopening.

Aside from the 3M health protocols, the government will also certify tourist destinations based on CHSE (Cleanliness, Health, Safety, and Environment Sustainability). Managers of tourist destinations are constantly reminded to be disciplined in implementing the health protocols to prevent emergence of new clusters of infection stemming from tourism-related activities.

In several regions, there is still a debate as to whether the tourism sector should be reopened during the endemic transition or should it wait until the pandemic is truly over, even when no one knows yet when it is going to end. However, tourism reopening is expected to serve as a catalyst to stoke broader optimism on economic recovery.

Many consider it is about time that the tourism sector is jolted out of its long slumber, as the economy and health during a pandemic are like two sides of
the same coin, something inseparable. The community must be healthy to carry out their social and economic activities while the economy must be kept healthy to deliver welfare to the people.

Beware of the third wave!
Although new cases of Covid-19 are showing a downward trend, Indonesia still needs to remain vigilant of a third wave. Learning from experience, spikes of infections in the country were often recorded after a long holiday
season. Based on the Health Ministry’s monitoring, people’s mobility has significantly increased compared to July, when the emergency curbs were enacted.

In some regions, such as West Java, Banten, Central Java, and East Java, this has even exceeded the pre-pandemic levels. Naturally, during festive seasons, we may expect people’s mobility to increase significantly. However, this also increases the risk of triggering a third wave, especially when vaccination coverage has yet to reach 50 percent by December. Many epidemiologists predict December 2021 to January 2022 will be the peak period of the third wave. It is worth noting that even if 50 percent of the population has been vaccinated, Covid-19 resurgence can still happen when people’s mobility is not restricted during the long holiday period.

Apart from high mobility, the peak of the third wave can be compounded by the slow testing and contact tracing, and weak supervision of self-isolation.
These can prompt more SARSCoV-2 virus mutations where it is feared that some of them can become more virulent and dangerous, causing the health
care system to collapse. Thus, the public is implored to remain cautious and be disciplined in obeying health protocols. Do not let carelessness and negligence wipe out the gains that have been achieved so far.

Some epidemiologists predict that, because more people have been fully vaccinated, the third wave that can potentially occur at the end of the year may not be as severe as the second wave in mid-July. Also, there is the fact
that the epicenter of the second wave was in Java, the most populated island, where most of its population have now been vaccinated or acquired natural immunity, according to Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist from Australia’s Griffth University. As the infection trajectory spreads out to coastal areas in Java and outside of Java and Bali, whose populations are smaller and less densely crowded together, the third wave will not be as bad. However, the number of deaths may increase three weeks after the peak because socially, economically, and health wise, the demography in these areas is weaker than Java and Bali, compounded by the lack of health
care facilities, human resources and slower vaccination uptake. All these could potentially lead to the same mortality rate as the second wave or even higher. Thus, the government needs to quickly strengthen its testing, tracing and treatment (3T) capacity and capability.

According to projections by U.S.-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 29 percent of Indonesia’s population has been infected with Covid-19, and the figure could reach 30 percent by end of the year. This means that more than 78 million Indonesians have been infected.

Experts predict that in a worst-case scenario, the Covid-19 pandemic may last well into 2025. However, in a more optimistic scenario, the virus can be beaten by the end of 2022, assuming that 70 percent of the global population will have been fully vaccinated by September next year.

Weak 3T in the regions will make it harder to respond to any resurgence, especially given the fact that the Delta-fueled crisis is not yet over. The low
vaccination rate outside Java and Bali further add to vulnerability. On a global level, many countries are now facing a third wave which will eventually impact Indonesia if the country’s mitigation efforts are not strong enough. It is worth pointing out that 60 percent of the country’s
population is vulnerable to new variants. Throw in the increased mobility, and the conditions are ripe for a third wave outbreak. If Indonesia cannot respond quickly and effectively, taking early precautionary actions, it is inevitable that the third wave will hit us hard in the end of this year or early next year.

It is worth reminding that having been vaccinated can also lull people into a false sense of security, believing that they are already immune and thus tend to neglect health protocols. While we know that this is not always the case; vaccination does not guarantee immunity. Research also shows that confined spaces such as hotels, restaurants and cafes have higher risk of spreading the virus, especially if they have poor ventilation and health
protocols are not vigorously enforced. Thus, it is recommended that people make use of food delivery services whenever possible to reduce contact. The onus is on us to do whatever we can to impede a third wave, as it will be very costly to people’s lives and the economy. (Trubus Rahardiansyah)