Large COVID-19 Clusters Detected at Indonesia’s Biggest Industrial Complex

Tia Asmara
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200827_ID_COVID_WestJava-factory_1000.jpg A man wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant at a housing complex where one of the residents, an employee at LG Electronics, contracted COVID-19 in Bekasi, in Indonesia’s West Java province, on Aug. 26, 2020.

Large COVID-19 clusters have emerged in Indonesia’s biggest industrial zone, forcing three factories to suspend operations this week after more than 300 workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, government officials said.

The new transmission clusters at the Cikarang industrial zone in Bekasi, West Java, likely arose because employees failed to follow health and safety protocols for working in close quarters, officials said.

Two factories in the MM2100 Industrial Estate inside the zone, including PT Suzuki Indomobil Motor, shut shop for two weeks on Thursday after more than 70 workers tested positive. On Monday, PT LG Electronics Indonesia, a factory of South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc., also temporarily shut for a week after 242 of its 700 employees contracted COVID-19.

“We found 242 cases in the LG plant, this is the highest [number so far in the Cikarang industrial zone,]” West Java Gov. Ridwan Kamil told journalists on Thursday.

He didn’t identify the second factory that suspended operations on Thursday.

“There’s one other factory but we are still tracing it, we’ll announce tomorrow,” Ridwan said about the second factory that suspended operations on the estate on Thursday.

The latest factory shutdowns in Bekasi, which lies on the outskirts of Jakarta, came as Indonesia on Thursday recorded the biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections, with 2,719 cases.

That brought the total number of cases nationwide to 162,884, according to information from disease experts at the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The 120 deaths recorded on Thursday were also the third-highest daily total since the outbreak began in March. Indonesia trails only the Philippines in the highest number of COVID-19 cases detected in East Asia, but has the highest death toll from the outbreak in the region.

Another factory in the MM2100 Industrial Estate, run by the British-Dutch firm Unilever, suspended operations last month after 22 staff in the engineering divisions tested positive for the virus.

The Cikarang industrial zone where the estate is situated is one of the largest industrial areas in Southeast Asia. It houses 2,125 factories from 25 countries. On the MM2100 Industrial Estate alone, there are as many as 171 national and multinational companies in operation.

Possible reasons for rise in COVID-19 clusters

Nur Hidayah, head of industrial relations at the Bekasi regency office, said one reason for the spread of COVID-19 clusters in industrial zones could be that there was no enforcement of rules on limiting the number of people at a location at any given time.

The lack of “capacity limitation enforcement,” especially in spaces such as factories’ shop floors and cafeterias, is likely to be the cause of the high spread of the coronavirus in these industrial areas, he said.

“We know LG has good [safety] protocols … but still, there are some loopholes in canteens where people tend to remove their masks and share food,” Nur said at a press conference Thursday.

He added that at least 1.5 million people work in the MM2100 Industrial Estate. And they live in neighborhoods across Bekasi, Jakarta and its surrounding areas.

“They can also get infected while traveling from home to factory or vice versa,” Nur said.

Ridwan, West Java’s governor, urged industry staff to follow safety protocols diligently.

“The transmission could be from not using a face mask, not keeping the distance, not diligently washing hands or other preventive measures,” he said.

Ridwan also said companies need to conduct thorough contract tracing of COVID-19 cases to avoid factory closures.

“Do not let any factory be closed again because of COVID-19,” he said.

‘Don’t let your guard down’

PT LG Electronics Indonesia said the emergence of COVID-19 cases in its factory would hurt business.

“This hit our company hard,” said Budi Hartono, a general manager for PT LG Electronics Indonesia, to Bisnis Indonesia, on Wednesday. “We have to stop the factory operations and shift the company’s focus to handling it.”

Budi said the company had and would continue to ensure that any policies to do with spreading COVID-19 transmission were made in coordination with the local government.

Meanwhile, Wiku Adisasmito, the spokesman for the COVID-19 task force, urged businesses to periodically ensure that health and safety protocols were being implemented correctly, and added they were required to get an operational permit from local government during the pandemic, among other measures.

“Don’t let your guard down,” Wiku said, during a teleconference on Tuesday. “And [you] must always work with your local government for monitoring and evaluation.”


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