Although Australian travelers have only been allowed to return to Bali since February, experts in Australia are now questioning whether they need to implement a new travel ban due to the tropical paradise.
Indonesia is experiencing an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. The viral disease is sweeping through livestock cattle in Java and Sumatra and experts are concerned that the virus will soon reach tourist hotspots like Bali.
Australian travelers make up over a quarter of the international visitors to Bali. A potential ban would decimate the already vulnerable and remerging tourism sector in Bali. Foot and Mouth Disease causes illness in animals with divided hooves, cows, sheep, pigs, goats, and deer for example.
The virus survives in living tissue, breath, saliva, and secretions from affected animals. Although it does not impact humans, humans can carry the virus through contaminated materials such as clothing or shoes that have been worn in areas where animals who have the virus are present.
Australia has no cases of foot and mouth disease and Indonesia hadn’t had any cases since 1986. Australia has incredibly strict agricultural border controls. When landing in Australia travelers must declare if they have been in close contact with any agricultural areas, livestock, or wildlife. Many travelers have to have their shoes and adventure gear sanitized before they are allowed to leave customs.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, experts are split as to whether a practical or over-cautious approach should be taken. In an interview with Yahoo News, AgriTrends analyst Simon Quilty said that his primary concern is with Indonesia’s ‘slow response’ to the outbreak.
It is thought that 2000 heads of cattle are currently testing positive, it is very possible that the virus is present in cattle in provinces outside of North Sumatra and East Java. He said that ‘As a country we seriously need to think about banning people going to Bali, as extreme as that sounds’. He went on to explain how travelers create ‘disease highways’ for the virus to get into Australia and rural farming communities.
Banning travellers to Bali, and Indonesia as a whole, would be a safe way to ensure that the disease does not gain access to Australia. Measures would also include tracking the movement of travellers who had recently been to Indonesia and visited elsewhere before entering Australia and tightening of protocols around the movement of livestock, meat and diary products and agricultural hygiene.
The impact of a foot and mouth outbreak in Australia would be disastrous. The disease has no real post-infection treatment and can only be controlled by vaccination. Outbreaks in other parts of the world have resulted in farmers having no option but to destroy their whole herd of cattle just to curb the outbreak.
Not only is it heartbreaking for farming communities but created devastating economic losses for the agricultural sector.
Other experts are feeling calm about Indonesia’s outbreak and see it as a calculated risk. According to Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Mark Schipp, his department ‘estimated two years ago that the risk was 9 percent within the next five years…I would expect that that risk would have at least doubled given the proximity of Indonesia, the trade that we have with Indonesia in sending live cattle up there, and the risk of travelers from Indonesia.’
He doesn’t feel a travel ban is necessary at this time and that Australian travellers can book their Bali beach holiday with confidence.
If Indonesia can curb the outbreak and confirm to Australian agricultural and veterinary authorities that there is no presence of the disease in Bali, the situation may deescalate. If the outbreak continues travelers can expect a more lengthy process at customs and declarations upon arriving home to Australia. This may include decontamination cleansing and tracing protocols.
It is hoped that the viral outbreak will be contained and bought under control swiftly as Australian travelers and the Bali tourism sector have a relationship that is only just starting to recover from Covid-19.
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