Indonesian palm producers have no plans to reduce hours despite virus - association

JAKARTA, April 3 (Reuters) - Palm oil plantations in top palm producer Indonesia have imposed protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus among workers but have no plans to reduce workers’ hours or other activities, an industry body said on Friday.

Coronavirus has infected 1,790 people and killed 170 in the world’s fourth-most populous nation as of Thursday, with many experts warning of a rapid spread and urging the government to impose a lockdown.

President Joko Widodo this week declared a public health emergency and instituted measures to limit the movement of people, but palm oil plantations are running as normal, the Indonesia Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) said.

“There’s no report on reducing work hours or activities in plantations. Hopefully COVID-19 will not reach palm plantations,” GAPKI Executive Director, Mukti Sardjono told Reuters.

He said the association has prepared a protocol for palm plantations to try to prevent the spread of the disease.

Measures include checking workers’ body temperature and limiting the movement of people in and out of the plantations, while those coming on to plantations must self-quarantine for 14 days.

Workers are also being discouraged from taking part in “mudik”, according to a circular dated March 27 and reviewed by Reuters, referring to people leaving cities for their home towns and villages at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

In neighbouring Malaysia, the world’s No.2 palm producer, the major producing state of Sabah has shut plantations until April 14 to curb the virus’ spread, even though the industry has been exempted from a government order restricting movement.

GAPKI deputy chairman Togar Sitanggang said there were no plans to reduce manpower on plantations in Indonesia.

“Reducing the harvest will harm the crops. The harvest must be done routinely so that the crops are healthy,” he said.

While operations at Indonesia’s palm plantations are unaffected, exports took a hit in January, slumping 32% year-on-year due to uncertainties about the impact on demand from the spread of coronavirus. (Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; writing by Fathin Ungku; editing by Richard Pullin)