An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Bali has raised fears the disease could reach Australia. Video / NZ Herald
After the past two years, hearing the words “contagious”, “virus” and “close borders” in the same sentence is enough to make anyone panic.
However, when Australian groups and individuals called to halt flights to Indonesia last week, it was not related to Covid-19, or even any disease humans can catch.
Instead, it was the risk of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD); a highly contagious virus that affects cloven-hoofed animals and often results in death.
He is currently in many countries, including Malaysia and China, but made headlines after returning to Indonesia for the first time in 37 years. Most notably, its presence in Bali (a popular tourist destination for Australians) has made some Australian experts nervous that travelers could bring the disease back via soil on their shoes or contaminated animal products.
How has Australia reacted to the risk?
On July 15, the Australian travel advice website “Smartraveller” updated its Indonesia page. It now includes a foot-and-mouth disease warning in the “Travel” section.
“Indonesia, including Bali, is currently experiencing an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease affecting animals,” the website says. The advice linked on the page simply suggests that travelers clean their shoes, clothes and gear before returning home and declare any contact with farm animals or rural areas on the incoming passenger card.
NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole suggested travelers throw away their shoes before returning to Australia. Meanwhile, opposition Senator Susan McDonald and some farmers’ groups have caused a stir after calling for a flight ban between Australia and Indonesia.
However, this was quickly ruled out by Australian Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.
“We have no intention of closing the borders with Indonesia or any of the many other countries affected by foot-and-mouth disease,” Watt told SKY last week.
“I haven’t received any advice from biosecurity experts in Australia that this is the sort of thing we should be doing.”
How is New Zealand reacting?
Panic over foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia has been much more muted in New Zealand, which currently has no direct flights to Bali.
Even if we did, Biosecurity New Zealand Deputy Managing Director Stuart Anderson said they were confident in their current (and extremely stringent) biosecurity procedures.
“We have a strong, multi-layered system that has some of the strongest metrics in the world,” he said.
However, they plan to strengthen border security protocols for those arriving from Indonesia and increase passenger education through in-flight announcements and brochures.
Anderson said that despite the low risk of foot and mouth disease entering New Zealand, it was still important to closely monitor developments in foot and mouth disease and make further adjustments if necessary.
Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ travel advice website “SafeTravel” does not mention foot-and-mouth disease on Indonesia’s travel advice page.
On July 20, the MFAT released a statement on the FMD outbreak in Indonesia.
“New Zealand does not have foot-and-mouth disease and we must prevent it,” the statement said.
As in Australia, travel advice includes cleaning personal belongings, reporting any contact with livestock and objects that may carry disease or pests, not bringing animal products home and to avoid stocks for one week after their last contact with animals abroad.
Should you take this trip to Bali?
If you’re planning a Bali vacation, the news may have you wondering if you need to worry.
The answer is yes, but no.
Yes, because if anything happens as a result of a pandemic or epidemic, including government restrictions or quarantines, or if Indonesia is classified as “Do Not Travel” by the MFAT, your travel insurance will probably be cancelled.
For example, Southern Cross Travel’s policy includes a general exclusion of government or official authority directives, restrictions, prohibitions, quarantines or detentions.
Therefore, if Australia, New Zealand or Bali closed their borders or imposed pandemic-related restrictions on airlines, no costs related to this would be covered.
Additionally, most travel insurance policies have an all-destination exclusion with a “Do Not Travel” notice from MFAT. Thus, if Indonesia received this label, your trip would not be insured.
The good news is that closed borders and Level 4 advisories don’t seem likely according to experts.
Reports of people asking for flight bans in Australia can be troubling, however, as Australia’s agriculture minister said last week, the Australian government was not considering closing the borders.
From the MFAT side, the risk of Indonesia receiving a “Do Not Travel” advisory for a disease that cannot directly impact people is very low.
In fact, the department has only issued a level four advisory for a disease once in its entire history, and that was for Covid-19.
“SafeTravel is focused on providing advice on safety and security issues that may impact a traveler in a particular destination,” an MFAT spokesperson said.
“Our travel advice reflects the potential risks and our assessment of what they could mean for New Zealanders.”