Indonesia reopens national parks to tourists as COVID-19 cases surge


Indonesia is reopening dozens of conservation areas to local and foreign visitors after months of closure, even as the number of coronavirus infections in the country continues to climb.

“Based on our assessment with local authorities, we’ve listed 29 national parks and nature parks that may gradually reopen from today until about mid-July,” Siti Nurbaya Bakar, the minister of environment and forestry, said at a press conference June 22.

The ministry earlier this year closed all conservation and protected areas to tourists in a bid to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading to wildlife. But the closure has had a devastating financial impact on local communities that depend on tourism business linked to the parks.

“The gradual reopening of the tourism sector hopefully can restart the people’s economy,” Wishnutama Kusubandio, the minister of tourism, said at the press conference. He added the reopening was part of the country’s “new normal” initiative to jump-start the slumping economy.

According to the government, the parks will have to instate COVID-19 protocols for all visitors and staff, including requiring the use of face masks and temperature checks, and limiting the number of visitors to a maximum 50% of total capacity.

Several of the park managers have welcomed the decision to reopen for tourism. Some plan to require online reservations and a medical letter certifying visitors have tested negative for COVID-19. Some that are popular sites for multi-day hiking and camping trips will only allow single-day visits as part of the new protocol.

The government says it will close any park if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in the area after the reopening.

The national parks that are allowed to reopen include Mount Gede Pangrango, Bromo Tengger Semeru, Mount Merapi, Mount Rinjani, Kutai, Tambora, Komodo Islands, and West Bali. These parks are home to rare and threatened species such as the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), Javan hawk-eagle (Nisaetus bartelsi) and silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch).

Indonesia now has the second-highest number of reported COVID-19 infections and deaths in East Asia, after China, with 56,385 cases and 2,876 deaths as of June 30. The government’s decision to reopen many sectors of the economy has received mounting criticism from experts who point out that the country’s COVID-19 curve is still trending up.

“With a low rate of testing, a poor health-care system, poor surveillance and lack of data transparency, the new normal policy can lead to a new wave of mass infections and cause long-term socioeconomic disruption,” a group of health experts wrote in a recent article in The Conversation.

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