The Jakarta Post
For millions of Indonesians, pasar (traditional market) has always been the first stop to buy daily supplies, thanks to affordable prices, a chance for haggling and a wide range of goods.
Even when COVID-19 hit the country, jostling crowds at traditional markets remained, raising concern that new clusters may emerge as the country begins to ease the coronavirus curbs.
Indonesia has seen several COVID-19 clusters emanate from traditional markets. Among the recent ones are 26 confirmed cases related to Cileungsi Market in Bogor regency, West Java, 20 cases from Klender Market in East Jakarta and another 14 from Serdang Market in Central Jakarta.
“Close interaction at traditional markets could lead to new clusters. Enforcement of health protocol and information campaigns by local governments are badly needed,” Indonesian Traditional Market Traders Association (IKAPPI) spokesperson Reynaldi Sarijowan told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
Among 12.3 million traders at 13,450 traditional markets across Indonesia, the association has recorded 535 vendors in 20 provinces contracting the virus, 29 of whom have died as of Friday. The highest number of cases at 133 was recorded in East Java.
The IKAPPI has issued a health protocol for vendors and traditional market managers that includes guidelines on the distance between stalls, plastic curtains between traders and customers, body temperature checks and routine disinfecting.
Reynaldi expressed doubt, however, that the guidelines would be properly enforced at every market.
The pandemic, which prompted a stay-at-home order and mobility restrictions, had caused a 65 percent slump in revenue for the traders, he said. Poor compliance with health protocol at traditional markets, he said, would make it difficult to restore public trust, hence sales would further suffer.
Traditional markets have gained worldwide attention as SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is believed to have originated from a wet market in Wuhan, China. Another cluster emerged in Beijing last week, which is suspected to have come from imported salmon sold at the Xinfadi meat market. The country reported 57 new cases on Sunday, 36 of which were domestic transmissions in the country’s capital and linked to the market.
Indonesia has seen the number of cases and fatalities rise sharply in the past week, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 38,227 and the death toll to 2,134 as of Sunday. Aside from Jakarta, East Java, South Sulawesi and East Kalimantan have become epicenters of the outbreak.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged people to maintain general hygiene and keep a safe distance from others. In a recent report on Indonesia, the health body said at least 1 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test per 1,000 people per week in transmission areas with results provided in 24-48 hours was among the “non-negotiable measures” during the new normal period amid the skyrocketing cases. It also recommended extensive contact-tracing and quarantining of all contacts surrounding new cases.
“At least 80 percent of new cases [should] have their close contacts traced and in quarantine within 72 hours of confirmation [...] and at least 80 percent of contacts of new cases are monitored for 14 days,” it said.
The Trade Ministry issued a circular in late May to support the operation of traditional markets while implementing health protocol to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The circular stipulates, among other things, limiting the number of visitors and using outdoor facilities if possible.
In Indonesia, the physical distancing approach at traditional markets drew the public’s attention when markets in Central Java allowed vendors to sell their products along the roads with a meter distance between one another.
However, vendors at Jakarta’s markets were unable to do so due to space constraints, said the president director of Jakarta-owned market operator Pasar Jaya, Arief Nasrudin. Starting on June 15, the company would instead impose an odd-even kiosk number policy, meaning vendors with odd kiosk numbers were only allowed to operate on odd dates and vice-versa.
“In Jakarta, [selling products on the roadside] is not possible. The space is not enough to accommodate the vendors,” he said.
Jakarta has confirmed 51 cases linked to eight traditional markets as of Friday, according to IKAPPI.
In the second-worst-hit province, East Java, more than 100 vendors have reportedly been infected by the disease, mostly in its capital Surabaya, the second-largest city in the country.
Surabaya economy and business agency head Agus Hebi Djuniantoro said monitoring the implementation of health protocol at traditional markets would be intensified.
“We will form a team involving vendors and local authorities tasked with reprimanding violators in the areas,” he told the Post.
Epidemiologist Windhu Purnomo from Airlangga University suggested strong rules and strict enforcement to be applied at traditional markets, both those under local administrations and those run independently by communities.
“By applying health protocol, we can at least minimize the risk of transmission at traditional markets,” he said.
Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia, suggested that the management mend infrastructure and facilities to ensure better air and water circulation.
“Our traditional markets commonly lack cleanliness and hygiene,” he said.