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Bali mask-brats make a joke of bio-security

Australia’s chances of keeping Foot and Mouth Disease out of the country are close to zero if the behaviour of young Aussies at Denpasar airport before my recent return from Bali, is anything to go by.

Despite official airport requirements, teenagers and young adults were unmasked, coughing and sneezing as they queued for food, meeting loud comments to mask-up from other passengers with sneers and eye-rolls.

Then I was stuck for the duration of the six-hour flight back to Sydney next to a teenage mask-brat who repeatedly took hers off or pulled it down over her chin, despite having been politely asked by crew members several times to wear it.

The pre-flight announcements on Qantas planes tell us it’s a legal requirement and ask us to respect each other’s choices. How about respecting the law?

What’s the connection with FMD? Perhaps asking some young Aussies travelling back from the hedonism of Bali to behave responsibly is a stretch.

What are the chances of them leaving their designer thongs behind or admitting on the arrivals cards that they trekked through paddy fields or got soaked in white-water rafting outings? Both, by the way, are covered by general questions on the arrivals forms.

However, if it means a moment’s delay before they head home from airports, then you can forget it.  Who can prove that they never stepped off bitumen?

Is the Australian government likely to go hard-core on this and shut the borders until the FMD threat is resolved (if it can ever be)?

That would be harsh on Bali which is just recovering from its own covid closures.  Taxi drivers, street vendors and waiters thank you for going back there.

And you can see why. Pre-covid, more than a million Australians travelled to Bali every year.  The Six-and-a-half-hour flight from Sydney is just a bit longer that a trip to Perth.  Perth to Denpasar is 3.5 hours, Darwin to Bali is less than three.

Bali can be a great place to relax with ridiculously inexpensive but luxuriously appointed spas at every turn.  The local food is fresh and attuned to more demanding Australian palates, but there are plenty of burger and pizza joints around for conservative tastebuds.

The weather is blissfully warm at this time of year and the occasional rain showers come as a relief rather than an intrusion.

Local brewers create very drinkable craft beers and even imported wines and spirits can be less expensive than back here in Oz. 

But it’s the well-established sense of freedom that Bali offers that are part of the concern.  It’s not just footballers who are let off the leash in our near neighbour’s backyard.

Kuta Beach was an extension for Australians on the Hippy Trail of the 60s and early 70s and over the years the beach-bum lifestyle has morphed into an Ibiza-like nightlife, allied to serious surfing on the fringes of coastal towns.

Canguu, for years a surfing outpost for those in the know, is a relatively new addition to the larger scene and the word is that Kuta culture from that now over-touristed destination has moved north. 

Certainly, strips of shops, hotels, restaurants and spas that lead all the way from Seminyak to the surfie Mecca of Echo Beach in Canguu are joining up to form tendrils of commerce, featuring designer stores that wouldn’t seem out of place in Byron Bay or Noosa.

By the way, the locals we asked about Foot and Mouth Disease had no idea what we were talking about.  It’s simply not on their radar.

Is there a solution that would keep Bali’s tourism alive while protecting Australia from a disease that could punch an $80 billion hole in our own recovering economy?

A radical plan is required. Maybe returning passengers should be forced to leave their shoes there.  And if you try to smuggle your designer Nikes back, you’d get the same fines as if you were trying to import live monkeys.

Foot and Mouth Disease can be transmitted on shoes and clothes. So perhaps an empty suitcase policy is required; take as much clothing as you want but leave it all behind when you return.

Whatever it is, something radical is required: we surely can’t trust our bio-security to spaced-out surfies and entitled mask-brats.

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