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This is how Indonesia is reacting to the coronavirus outbreak

E-commerce platforms are monitoring surging mask prices while the country’s IT ministry is dealing with fake news.

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

The coronavirus outbreak is shaking the world, especially after the World Health Organization declared it a global health emergency on January 30. The virus has spread to 25 countries. In Southeast Asia, there have been cases reported in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Cambodia.

To date, there have not been any confirmed cases of coronavirus in Indonesia, although an Indonesian migrant worker in Singapore has been confirmed as infected with the virus on Tuesday. The woman is reportedly working for a Singaporean employer who also contracted the coronavirus, and both of them are currently under intensive care in the isolation room at the Singapore General Hospital.

Masks price are surging on e-commerce platforms

Concern about the spread of the deadly virus has been felt in Indonesia in recent weeks, influenced by many false reports about the coronavirus circulating on social media.

This situation has caused an increase in the demand for health masks and supplements. The price of health masks, especially the N95 mask, has risen on a number of e-commerce platforms. The N95 mask is capable of filtering air up to 95%, which is considered effective in preventing the virus’s spread. This type of mask normally costs around IDR 20,000 (USD 1.46) but its price has increased by about three to five times in the past two weeks.

The surging mask prices on e-commerce platforms are varied. While many sellers have been maintaining the original prices, a number of merchants have raised the price to up to IDR 2 million (USD 145) for a 20 pieces-box.

In response to the situation, Tokopedia said that it is actively monitoring its platform to prevent unreasonable price surges for health products, including N95 masks. As a marketplace platform, Tokopedia is based on user-generated content (UGC), where merchants or customers can upload products to the platform independently.

That said, Tokopedia does provide an avenue for users to complain when prices skyrocket. “UGC is a very useful approach that offers convenience to sellers, but we’ll still make sure that their content complies with the applicable norms and laws. If users find products sold at unreasonable prices, they can report this directly by clicking the ‘report feature’ on each product page,” Tokopedia’s VP of corporate communications, Nuraini Razak, told KrASIA.

Bukalapak has adopted a similar approach. Merchants are allowed to determine prices and sales strategies, but the platform will act if there are parties who take advantage of the pandemic situation to reap unreasonable profits and obstruct public access to medical devices. Bukalapak is also cooperating with mask suppliers to increase supply, according to the firm’s spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Indonesian travel unicorn Traveloka has also taken concrete actions by cooperating with state-owned air traffic and airport management firm Angkasa Pura, to distribute N95 masks for free to thousands of international passengers flying to China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, and Singapore.

The masks were distributed at the international terminal of the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, from February 4 to 6.

Concerns over widespread false information online

Indonesia has also seen the spread of false information regarding the coronavirus outbreak, spreading fear to local communities. Indonesia’s IT ministry noted that as of February 3, there were 54 hoaxes about the coronavirus that were spread through social media and instant messaging platforms. The number of these hoaxes nearly doubled within a week; on Jan 31, the ministry found 36 hoaxes, and on Feb 3, it had increased to 54.

The ministry has not blocked hoaxes from the internet yet, however, it is taking preventive measures such as classifying false information and assigning a hoax stamp to articles containing misinformation related to the virus. These stamped articles are then published on the ministry’s website. The ministry will also work with the police to take legal action if the hoaxes continue to spread.

Screencap of Indonesia’s IT Ministry website.

Moreover, the IT ministry will soon issue a ministerial regulation regarding the dissemination of false information. Individuals who create or distribute fake news will be fined IDR 1 billion (USD 72,868), while platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others will be fined IDR 500 million (USD 36,434) if they allow the spread of fake news and do not remove fake content on their platforms.

New government policies to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak

On February 1, the Indonesian government repatriated 285 Indonesian citizens from Wuhan to be observed and quarantined on Natuna island. On Tuesday, President Joko Widodo held a closed-door meeting with several ministers to discuss strategies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Firstly, the government will start hotline services in nine ministries offering information to the public regarding the virus and its impact. Secondly, the government is temporarily ceasing flights on the Indonesia-China route, starting today. Thirdly, the government will restrict the arrival of passengers from China, and has begun monitoring these arrivals beginning February.

Another announced measure is the extension of up to one month for foreign workers and tourists from China who have been in Indonesian territory, and have not yet returned to their country. Furthermore, the Indonesian government will soon ban imports of live animals from China.

In general, business is still running as usual in Indonesia, including in the tech sector. To local media, the chairman of Indonesia’s investment board Bahlil Lahadalia said that the coronavirus outbreak has not affected Indonesia’s investment climate for now. Nonetheless, this situation could change if the situation worsens in the next three months, Lahadalia said.

Tourism is the most affected sector by this global outbreak, considering that the number of tourists from China is around two million per year. According to Bhima Yudhistira, a digital economy analyst from the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF), the restrictions of Chinese tourists into Indonesia could indirectly impact tech companies engaged in transportation, hotels, and even food delivery, as they would see a decrease in transactions, especially in touristy cities like Bali.

If this situation continues, cooperation and collaborations between digital companies in Indonesia and China could be disrupted. “Even though meetings or discussions can be done via the internet, large deals certainly require direct meetings, and traveling restrictions to and from China could interfere with businesses going forward. In addition, it is possible that this could hamper investments from China to Indonesia, including to tech companies, especially if Chinese venture capital firms would want to focus on domestic market recovery before expanding overseas,” Bhima said.

These government policies, especially the import restriction, had drawn criticism from the Chinese ambassador to Indonesia, according to local media reports. However, President Widodo said that these regulations are necessary as an effort to protect the Indonesian people from the virus’ spread. The temporary regulations will be in place until the global outbreak subsides, according to the president.