Bali's Day of Silence hit by virus fears

By: AFP      Published: 10:58 AM, 25 Mar, 2020
Bali's Day of Silence hit by virus fears

Bali's "Day of Silence" was even quieter than usual this year as coronavirus fears prompted authorities to scale back an annual celebration that sees the Hindu-majority island in Indonesia come to a near standstill.

Known as Nyepi, the festival calls on locals to stay at home for 24 hours and reflect in a self-imposed lockdown.

Flights and internet connections are temporarily halted while tourist attractions are closed to allow time for meditation and introspection.

But the celebration, which was marked Wednesday, is usually preceded by street parades featuring colourful effigies known as Ogoh-Ogoh which are later burned, representing renewal and purification.

The parades were drastically scaled back Tuesday evening over fears of spreading the deadly virus, while authorities have also called off a related celebration featuring kissing couples.

Social distancing measures were in place for some traditional ceremonies that went ahead -- with mixed results -- and many gave offerings in hopes of warding off the virus.

"We hope the universe will help protect people from the outbreak," said Nyepi organiser Cokorda Putra Wisnu Wardana.

"The offerings will be placed in the river to symbolise our wish that all illness, viruses and things that make us fearful will be swept away," he added.

For Bali resident Dwi Antara, virus fears -- which have already pounded the island's key tourism sector -- took the shine off the celebration. "It's different this year," the 24-year-old said.

"Usually it's so festive... It doesn't feel like Nyepi."

Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country but more than 80 percent of Bali's population identify as Hindu and practise a local version of the religion.