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Jakarta Post

McDonald’s Sarinah tribute backfires as fans defy social restrictions

  • Sausan Atika

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 11, 2020   /   07:44 pm
McDonald’s Sarinah tribute backfires as fans defy social restrictions Sitting in a corner of the historic Sarinah shopping center on Jl. MH Thamrin in Central Jakarta, Indonesia's first McDonald's restaurant opened on Feb. 23, 1991 and has since become an icon for many urbanites in the capital. (JP/I Gede Dharma JS )

First dates, a noisy study spot and late-night hunger pangs – such were the memories that drove hundreds of people to flock to the parking lot of the Sarinah shopping center in Central Jakarta on Sunday evening.

Strangers and acquaintances convened in front of McDonald’s Sarinah – the first branch of the fast food chain to ever open in Indonesia – to witness the end of an era, as the restaurant was closing its doors for good that night after almost three decades.

The send-off would have made for a fitting end to one of the city’s most iconic haunts, if not for one spectacular blunder: The crowd was violating the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in place in Jakarta.

In a swell of nostalgia, fans and frequent visitors to the Golden Arches scribbled personal recollections on a banner specifically erected to pay tribute, while social media was flooded with videos of the momentous occasion, eliciting mixed reactions.

Many people deplored the gathering in light of the flouting of PSBB rules, with some even expressing concern that a new cluster of COVID-19 cases might appear as the city struggled to flatten the curve of infections.

The Pedestrian Coalition, through its Twitter account @trotoarian, wrote: “Hopefully, there will not be a new [COVID-19] cluster from McD Sarinah. Is PSBB ferocious on paper only but weak in implementation?”

Claudia Stoicescu, an associate researcher at Oxford University's Center for Evidence-Based Intervention in the United Kingdom, who is also a visiting scholar at Atma Jaya University’s HIV/AIDS Research Center, also expressed concern about the PSBB violation.

“Oh #Jakarta. Last night in the midst of supposedly strict #PSBB #physicaldistancing policies in the Indonesian capital, Jakartans flout the rules meant to keep them healthy and alive to mourn the closure of the iconic #mcdsarinah,” she tweeted from her handle @ClauStoicescu.

Twitter user @ziechampchamp wrote: “I wanted to cry once I read news reports on why McD Sarinah had become a trending topic. I wanted to cry because they don’t fear getting infected by COVID-19, do they? #mcdsarinah

McDonald's Indonesia had announced on social media last week that it would close its Sarinah branch on Sunday at 10:05 p.m., triggering mass nostalgia and impromptu visits to the location.

Sutji Lantyka, associate director of communications for McDonald’s Indonesia, told The Jakarta Post that the company’s management was shocked because it had no idea that so many people would come.

Jakarta Public Order (Satpol PP) Agency head Arifin said the agency would dig deeper into the case to determine whether McDonald's Indonesia in Sarinah committed a violation.

“[McDonald’s Sarinah may have] violated [restrictions]. The quickest thing we could do to enforce the law at the time was to reprimand the management and disperse the crowds. We are currently exploring legal sanctions against the management of McDonald’s Indonesia,” he told the Post on Monday.

Arifin said the authorities had widely circulated information on the restrictions put in place and insisted that the chain’s management could have prevented crowds from gathering.

“This could have been anticipated from the beginning,” he said.

However, Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Yusri Yunus played down the situation, saying the crowds dispersed after authorities arrived. “It was just a spontaneous action to express their sadness,” Yusri told the Post.

He said the police would continue patrols all across the capital.

Last month, police arrested 18 people for violating physical-distancing measures in Bendungan Hilir and Sabang in Central Jakarta after they refused to disperse, even after repeated warnings.

The Jakarta Health Agency's head of disease control and prevention, Dwi Oktavia Handayani, said it was too early to declare a new COVID-19 cluster as the agency had yet to receive reports of infected people attending the gathering.

“We will interview patients for contact tracing when any of them arrive at a health facility in Jakarta. If they went to the McD event, for instance, we will certainly investigate the people surrounding them,” she said.

The agency was not able to arrange mass testing for those involved in Sunday's event as they were unidentified, she said. The city administration prioritizes tests for people who show symptoms. Meanwhile, other groups, particularly the elderly and communities living in densely populated areas, are prioritized for mass rapid testing.

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to swell despite the PSBB status being in place for a month in Jakarta, the national epicenter of the outbreak with 5,190 cases and 434 deaths as of Sunday.

The restrictions in place include bans on mass gatherings and restrictions on the flow of public transportation and private vehicles. Article 27 of the relevant regulation states that "violators will be punished in accordance with prevailing regulations, and these may include criminal sanctions."

The 2018 Health Quarantine Law stipulates that violators will face a fine and imprisonment. Individuals and companies are subject to penalties, ranging from a one-year prison term and a Rp 100 million (US$6,695) fine, to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a Rp 15 billion fine.