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Jakarta Post

Safety above all: Tanah Abang market closes for 10 days, faces Ramadan losses amid COVID-19

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, March 27, 2020   /   11:54 am
Safety above all: Tanah Abang market closes for 10 days, faces Ramadan losses amid COVID-19 Vendors tend their booths on March 18 in the empty halls of the usually packed Tanah Abang Market in Central Jakarta. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama )

The usually packed Tanah Abang Market in Central Jakarta is closing its door for 10 days from Friday through April 5 in a move that is likely to hit traders, but has been deemed necessary to curb the further spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Indonesian capital.

City-owned market operator PD Pasar Jaya has already closed nearly all blocks in Southeast Asia’s largest textile market, namely Block A, Block B and Block F. Block G remains open, but its operation is restricted to grocery vendors, said Pasar Jaya president director Arief Nasrudin.

“We are temporarily halting all trading activities as part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Arief said in a statement on Thursday, adding that the market operator had informed all traders about the closure policy prior to implementation.

The famous textile market is home around 10,000 tenants that generate daily sales transactions of up to Rp 100 billion (US$ 6.20 million). It is located in the strategic and busy Tanah Abang area, where the streets are also filled with traders and vendors.

The market typically sees its busiest time of year ahead of Ramadan, the holy Islamic fasting month that starts next month, when people from across the archipelago come to the market to purchase goods in bulk for reselling in their place of origin.

Tanah Abang is the first city-owned market to close amid the COVID-19 outbreak in the capital city. The last time it closed was in May 2019 during the post-election riots in Jakarta, which forced traders to close their doors temporarily for their own safety.

The Jakarta administration has not imposed a policy that requires all  traditional markets in the city to suspend operations.

The administration issued a circular last week that imposed a temporary closure on several entertainment venues and a temporary closure for all offices – or work from home (WFH) – to contain the spread of the highly contagious respiratory illness.

Jakarta, dubbed the epicenter of the national outbreak, on Thursday reported 32 new cases, bringing the cumulative tally to 495 confirmed cases including 48 deaths and 29 recovered cases.

With people practicing physical distancing by staying at home, Tanah Abang traders have seen "a significant decline in their revenues", said the head of the Indonesian Market Traders Association, Abdullah Mansuri.

"There are no customers and no people are coming, so we agreed to the plan to close until April 5," Mansuri told The Jakarta Post by phone on Thursday. "We will see how it turns out later."

The outbreak was expected to affect the market's textile traders, as the public health emergency could prevent them from selling during Ramadan, which Mansuri said was "the yearly [sales] opportunity".

"[The seasonal period] involves many stakeholders, such as laborers, angkot [public minivans], neighborhood residents and nearby food sellers," he said, adding that total sales during the Islamic fasting month was projected to reach above Rp 5 trillion. 

"But their safety is more important," he stressed.

As a preventive measure for traders and customers that could be carrying the virus, Pasar Jaya has equipped its markets with thermal scanners and hand sanitizers for both visitors and vendors. The company also regularly disinfects its facilities, offices and musholla (prayer rooms).

Researcher Enny Sri Hartati of the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance's (Indef), who spoke to the Post by phone on Thursday, said that the market operator should close all other markets it managed to prevent the further spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

As many traders and informal workers depended on daily incomes to make ends meet, the central government should provide a 14-day social insurance scheme to support them while they could not earn an income, she added.

The government could start by helping the most vulnerable, namely those who were recipients of social assistance programs, like the Jakarta Smart Card education program for the urban poor, said Enny.

"This is not just to help with their purchasing power, but their survival," she stressed. "The negative economic impact could be greater if the outbreak spirals out of control." (dfr)