Sun, sea, sand and space as coronavirus empties Asia's beaches

BALI, Indonesia (Reuters) - Just weeks ago, some visitors were complaining that Bali’s famous sand and surf spot of Kuta Beach was way too busy.

The deserted empty Kata beach which usually is crowded with tourists is pictured during the first day of the lockdown imposed by Phuket governor amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on Phuket island, Thailand, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Sooppharoek Teepapan

Now it is deserted, with access banned as part of measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, which has killed nearly 100,000 people around the world and infected more than 1.5 million.

The picture in Bali is similar at other top Asia Pacific destinations such as Sydney’s Bondi Beach and Thailand’s Phuket.

“To stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the beaches in Kuta area closed for public,” reads a sign in Bali, Indonesia, the country with the highest coronavirus death toll in Asia after China, where the virus emerged.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus, which emerged in central China late last year.

The virus has killed 306 people in Indonesia out of 3,512 cases, but more limited testing than in neighbouring countries means the figures are widely believed to be higher.

The long Easter weekend would normally be a busy time in Bali, but not this year.

“Business is down almost 95 percent,” said souvenir shop owner Ruju, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. “I have to borrow money just to buy food.”

Not everyone agreed with the restrictions on the beaches.

Among them was Australian Daniel Baker, who said it would be better to just enforce social distancing of up to two metres to prevent the virus spreading.

“When I went for a surf last week I was on Kuta reef, one kilometre offshore, the nearest surfer was 200 metres away, so why can’t I do that?” he told Reuters.

“I should be able to swim or surf, it’s important for mental health and exercise to stay healthy to fight COVID.”


Bans on public gatherings larger than two also forced Sydney’s Bondi Beach to close over the Easter holiday. On Manly Beach, people were allowed to exercise but not swim.

Australians have been told to stay home or face dire consequences in the crackdown against the coronavirus, even as its spread slows. Australia had 6,152 infections by Friday with 53 virus-related deaths.

The co-owner of Bondi Surf Seafoods, George Dimitrios said 2020 was the worst year in his family’s 47-year-old business and Good Friday sales had been disastrous.

“We’ve had the bushfires, we’ve had the rain and now we’ve got this,” he said.

Bondi made headlines in March when thousands of people were seen ignoring social distancing rules at its world-famous beach. Authorities have since opened up a pop-up clinic.

On the Thai resort island of Phuket, coronavirus has largely eliminated the tourist industry on which it has survived. It is now on a partial lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, which has killed 33 people in Thailand and infected at least 2,473.

The usually busy Walking Street in the Old Phuket Town was almost empty.

“The impact is so severe because most of our customers are tourists,” said Ittipat Klomkliang, owner of the Roast Coffee Cafe.

“From China and now Europe, a lot of the tourists have gone to zero.”

Additional reporting by Apichai Thonoi in Phuket and James Redmayne in Sydney; Editing by Matthew Tostevin