‘I don’t think we can wait’: Business groups ready for ‘new normal’ despite risks

Businesspeople are prepared to press on with the government’s plan to gradually reopen the economy under health protocols to establish a “new normal” amid the continued rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indonesia.

On May 20, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto signed a set of policies on the prevention and control of COVID-19 in offices and factories.

The policies set requirements for businesses to be allowed to reopen. These include ensuring sufficient hand washing facilities, checking employees’ temperatures, requiring employees to wear masks, keeping one meter of distance between employees at work, minimizing physical interaction with customers and avoiding the formation of crowds.

Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) deputy chairwoman Shinta Kamdani said on Tuesday that reopening – with health protocols – was necessary to help cash-strapped businesses recover. But with confirmed cases still increasing, Shinta acknowledged that employees returning to work could be exposed to the coronavirus.

“I don’t think we can wait until the pandemic is completely under control,” Shinta told The Jakarta Post in a phone interview. “We can only make an assessment based on businesses’ preparedness to implement the protocols in order to minimize the risks.”

Shinta said essential businesses had taken similar measures: requiring employees to wear face masks, disinfecting workplaces and providing hand sanitizer and hand washing facilities. However, she thought small and medium businesses might find it harder to implement the protocols.

The government has been struggling to keep the economy afloat during the outbreak, which has battered Indonesia’s economic growth to a 19-year low of 2.97 percent in this year’s first quarter. The large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) meant to contain the spread of the virus in the epicenters of Greater Jakarta and Surabaya, East Java, among other regions, have forced businesses to close and left millions without jobs.

Government Regulation (PP) No. 21/2020 requires all workplaces, except those in essential sectors, to temporarily shut down in areas under PSBB.

“However, it’s impossible to impose restrictions on workplaces forever. We should keep the wheels of our economy running,” Terawan said in a statement on the Health Ministry’s official website on Saturday. “That’s why workplaces must prepare to adapt to changes amid the COVID-19 situation, also known as the new normal.”

Terawan said the policies to handle the COVID-19 pandemic “must remain supportive of the continuity of the people’s economic activity, so, health-wise, they require prevention and control measures at offices and industry sites”.

Indonesia recorded 415 new COVID-19 cases and 27 more deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 23,165 nationwide with 1,418 total deaths.

Indonesian Shopping Center Association (APPBI) chairman Stefanus Ridwan said on Tuesday that shopping malls would limit the number of visitors to just half of the normal number and would maintain safe distances at restaurants in the malls.

“I think 50 percent [of the normal visitors] is fine,” Stefanus told the Post. “Moreover, it is unlikely that everyone will go to the shopping malls at the early stage as some are probably still afraid and the economy has yet to recover.”

Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data shows that household consumption, which accounts for more than a half of the country’s economy, grew by just 2.84 percent in the first quarter, down from about 5 percent in the same period last year. As of April 20, more than 2 million people had lost their jobs. Others have decided to rein in their spending.

APPBI Jakarta chapter chairwoman Ellen Hidayat said that 60 malls in the capital would reopen for business on June 5 and four others would reopen on June 8 in line with the Jakarta gubernatorial regulation on PSBB extension, which will end on June 4.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has hinted that the city administration will not extend the measure a fourth time and that Jakartans should be ready to face a “new normal”.

However, reopening the economy may not help the hotel industry as consumers will have less holiday time than they normally do and the government will have fewer meetings and conferences, said Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) vice chairman Maulana Yusran.

The government has cut its budget for such activities and has reallocated the funds towards the effort to contain COVID-19. The state budget deficit is expected to pass 6 percent this year.

“In the new normal, which will go from June to the end of the year, the government’s activities may not be optimal or may even be at a minimum,” Maulana said, projecting that the country’s hotel market might only begin recovering next year.

The occupancy rate in hotels across the country almost halved in March to 32.24 percent annually. Hotels get between 70 percent and 80 percent of their revenue, on average, from government meetings and conferences.( JP / IM )

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