Jakarta. Restaurant and shopping malls operators have pleaded the Jakarta city government to allow people to dine in at restaurants and cafes in the malls as the city's latest round of large-scale social restrictions, or PSBB, threatens to push them out of business for good.
Restaurants and cafes in shopping malls were among the first to be restricted by the government as the city reimposed a two-week restriction on Sep 14. That despite data showed the restaurants and cafes have a low-risk for Covid-19 transmission when they serve people up to 50 percent of their capacity and uphold strict health protocol.
That arrangement had kept the restaurants barely afloat during the pandemic that have been raging for seven months in the capital for seven months.
But in the latest restriction, the restaurants and cafes must not serve dine-in customers and only serves to take-away orders.
"We barely have any sales today, and our debt is growing," Yansen Salim, the owners of Ikkudo, Ramen Ya!, and Sumoboo! restaurant chain told Jakarta Globe's sister publication BeritaSatu.com.
Yansen said when his restaurants opened with half of the capacity, he could maintain sales at between 40 percent and 50 percent of sales in pre-pandemic time. Today he only made 10 percent of the sales and book billions of rupiah in losses every month, as he still needed to pay taxes, rents, and wages for his remaining employees.
"This policy is aimed at the wrong target! The mall is not a cluster for the spread of Covid-19," Yansen said. "Visitors have their body temperature checked when they enter the malls and again when they enter the restaurant."
Data from the Jakarta city department showed only five cases of Covid-19 transmission happened in the malls since March until Sep.18. In comparison, the public and private offices were responsible for 3,112 local transmissions the data showed.
"We follow strict health protocol, but we're restricted. Those selling on the side of the road are left alone," Yansen said.
Widyastuti, the head of the Jakarta Health Department, said the city administration decided to forbid people from dining in at restaurants or cafes due to the Covid-19 transmission risk associated with the activities. She said people produce droplets that carry the coronavirus when they "eat together and share stories with their friends."
"This is the reason the provincial government asks for food to be taken home," Widyastuti said.
Without restaurants or cafes, malls would attract only a few visitors, a level that unsustainable for their and their suppliers' businesses.
"The attraction of the shopping mall is that people can eat, drink, or meet. Now they are all quiet because people can't eat and drink," Yansen said.
Alphonzus Widjaja, the chairman of the Indonesian Shopping Center Management Association (APPBI), agreed with Yansen's observation. Alphonzus said restaurants and cafes in shopping malls have laid off 200,000 people or about 50 percent of their workforce since the pandemic began in March.
The Jakarta government has extended the PSBB for another two weeks to Oct 11, and that would leave the businesses with no choice but let go of their remaining workers. As many as 280,000 mall employees and 2 million tenants' employees were also potentially affected, he said.
"If a this tighter PSBB continue for a considerable time, we feared the shopping malls would run into troubles," Alphonzus said.
"The shopping malls have cut their costs since March. Now there is nothing left to be cut," he said.
Therefore, APPBI had asked the government for some incentives. The association said the government should exempt shopping malls from paying the income tax on rent, service charges, and reimbursement of electricity costs from Oct 1 to Sep 30, 2021.
The association also asked for exemptions on value-added taxes and regional taxes such as land and building tax, billboards, and parking.
Also, APPBI requested Rp 6 trillion ($404 million) in subsidy to pay for up to half their employee wages.
"We are currently reviewing what kind of incentives we can provide, especially for the sectors employing a lot of people," Fabrio Kacaribu, the head of Fiscal Policy Office at the Finance Ministry.