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Jakarta Post

Solving Indonesia’s invisible infection clusters

  • Sean Harsha

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, September 17, 2020   /   11:16 am
 Solving Indonesia’s invisible infection clusters Loose restriction: Office workers walk to their workplace near Dukuh Atas Station, Central Jakarta, in May. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Untraceable and invisible. Contagious and dangerous. These words describe the infection clusters at kos-kosan (rooming houses) that are seldom discussed, yet require serious attention if Indonesia truly wants to start taking control of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Infection clusters are nothing new. They have been popping up left and right ever since the start of the health crisis, most notably at office buildings, where the rate of infection has spiked as some companies prioritize business over health, forcing employees to commute to work from home.

As reported by The Jakarta Post on July 29, Jakarta alone saw at least 90 distinct office clusters emerge — a number that has continued to rise due to poor ventilation, a lack of space for social distancing and the lax enforcement of health protocols.

When the workers at these offices return to their rooming houses, they bring the disease with them. And herein lies the problem. The government is not spending on COVID-19 preventive measures in the places where people spend most of their time: their homes.

It’s not for a lack of trying. In response to the pandemic, the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced a relief package worth more than Rp 400 trillion (US$27 billion). This amount was to be divvied up on spending for healthcare infrastructure, social safety nets, industrial support and the national economic recovery program.

However, its earnest intentions aside, the relief package has not sufficed in holding citizens accountable to proper preventive practices, nor does it enforce such measures in communal living areas — as reported by Bloomberg, 60.6 percent of Indonesians surveyed by independent pollster Indikator Politik oppose tough mobility restrictions. This is precisely why bringing strict, standardized health safety to communal spaces may be the next best solution.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said during a video briefing on July 24 that offices and communal areas were the “most prone” to COVID-19 transmission. Jakarta Health Agency head Widyastuti echoed a similar concern a day earlier, telling reporters that the workers who risked infection at the office also risked infection at home.

Therefore, communal areas across Indonesia would be wise to adopt standardized health protocols, especially considering the successes of global hospitality platforms in enforcing them to mitigate health risks.

One of these platforms, RoomMe, appears to take health very seriously — and lucky for Indonesia, it is a local company.

A virtual kos-kosan or “kost” aggregator established in 2017, RoomMe helps tenants find places to stay, while also managing and marketing properties for kost owners on its platform.

According to RoomMe cofounder Glen Ramersan, for businesses registered with RoomMe, it is required that all tenants and employees wear masks in common areas, including kitchens, living rooms and laundry rooms.

In addition, hand sanitizer is required at the front desk of every one of its kos-kosan, no more than two people are allowed in a common area at the same time and thermal guns must be available for temperature checks, including on all incoming guests prior to entry. Once a month, a deep cleaning of the entire building occurs to remove any bacteria that may have snuck its way through.

An oft-ignored health risk is the treatment of packages, which offices and apartments regularly fail to safely handle. RoomMe doesn’t take any chances. Packages are not allowed in the premises of its koskosan — at least not before they enter designated delivery posts, where they are isolated before being safely delivered to the recipient.

There has yet to be a positive case of COVID-19 at a RoomMe establishment, according to Glen, but a standard operating procedure is in place should the worst happen. Any tenant who tests positive will be sent to their neighborhood clinic accompanied by front desk personnel, who will also handle transportation to ensure the virus doesn’t spread.

I have no affiliation with RoomMe, but it is clear what they are doing has set the heath safety benchmark in Indonesia for koskosan and therefore needs to be replicated by all other hospitality platforms citywide, if not outright adopted into regulation by the Jakarta administration, or at the very least by the hospitality businesses and community heads that supervise them.

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Half-American, half-Indonesian writer, poet and journalist