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Homeland Security

New Coronavirus Clusters Emerge in Jakarta Office Buildings

By Amanda Siddharta August 05, 2020

Two months ago, Jakarta transitioned away from large-scale social restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, allowing people like Sri Hendary to resume normal activities like working at the office.

But this past Monday, Sri had to revert to working from home when her office decided the risk of workplace infection became too great.

"We now work in shifts," said Sri, who works at a shipping company that abides the strict health protocols enforced in most Jakarta office buildings.

"In our building, every person has to get their temperature checked with a thermal scan, disinfect their hands and shoes, and wear a mask at all times," she explained.

Spooked by a cluster of new outbreaks, her managers took action.

"The staff comes into the office once a week only for a few hours, but for those who are above 50 years old, including me, we are advised to work only from home."

Tenfold increase

Indonesia's COVID-19 Task Force recorded at least 90 new coronavirus clusters in Jakarta office buildings on July 28, comprising a total of 459 confirmed workplace cases – a tenfold increase since large-scale social restrictions concluded in early May.

Of these clusters, 18 were discovered in offices of different Indonesian ministries.

Task force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito says these clusters emerged because some businesses are neglecting health protocols.

"Internationally, we are still in a pandemic," he told VOA. "It has been advised to work from home, especially for those who are at higher risks. Offices should also limit the working hours and the room capacity should be at 50%.

"If people are not disciplined in maintaining the health and safety guidelines, then of course clusters can happen," he added.

Elizabeth Selina, who works at an office in West Jakarta, says complacency about workplace safety guidelines have left her constantly worried about contracting the virus.

"At first we had to disinfect our hands when we entered, but after some time, I've seen people who just walk in without doing that," she said. "We also have to wear a mask, but at one point, some of the staff will take it off."

Selina says some colleagues are confined to close quarters for several hours, sometimes with poor ventilation. She hopes the government will impose stricter enforcement of workplace safety protocols, including regular testing of those who work on site.

Lax oversight

University of Indonesia epidemiologist Pandu Riono blames the latest outbreak on a lack of supervision and education about workplace protocol enforcement. A lot of offices have opened up their buildings, he said, without properly educating the staff about the importance of cleanliness and maintaining a physical distance.

"I had identified potential clusters that can happen with the easing of [restrictions]," said Riono, explaining that he had urged government health officials in May to require physical distancing in offices, factories, markets, or any place where crowds gather.

Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist from Australia's Griffith University, says the government should hold off opening non-essential offices until the end of the year.

"There is no other choice for Indonesia, unless you want to risk a large increase in infection and death," Budiman told local news outlet Kompas.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has vowed to improve enforcement oversight and expand COVID-19 testing, promising to name companies that fail to comply.

"The Jakarta Government will continue to supervise every business and public activity in Jakarta," he said during an online press conference July 30.

"We will formally announce in our website any violations and the consequences," he said. "We will also impose a progressive fine for repeat offenders and companies that have received prior warnings."

Baswedan says the head of the office must take actions to protect their workers and continue to stress the importance of adhering to the health and safety protocols, as well as continuously supervising the day-to-day activities in the building.

"If a workplace does not care about its workers, the consequence is potential infection," he said. "When that happens, there has to be a closure and, in the end, everyone will lose."

Indonesia now has more than 116,871 confirmed cases, with 5,452 deaths, the highest in Southeast Asia.

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