Asia

COVID-19: Indonesia’s Health System Teeters as Country Nears 3M Infections

Soaring coronavirus infections in Indonesia were fast approaching the 3 million mark Monday as a medical association warned that the health-care system was teetering and government officials had yet to announce whether they were extending a partial lockdown in Java and Bali.

Indonesia recorded 1,338 fatalities from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, a new single-day record that pushed the pandemic’s death toll in Southeast Asia’s most populous country to close to 75,000, according to Health Ministry data. The wave of infections have been driven by infections from the highly contagious Delta variant, officials said.

On Sunday, the Indonesian Medical Association said that at least 114 doctors had died from COVID-19 since the start of July. In addition, at least 445 nurses had died from of the virus during the pandemic, it said.

“We are worried that we are on the brink of a collapse, just looking at the number of deaths among doctors,” Mahesa Paranadipa, the head of the association’s mitigation team, told an online discussion.

The nation has recorded 2.91 million cases of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected here in March 2020, but more than 350,000 were confirmed in the past week alone, according to the Health Ministry. While new infections fell to 34,257 on Monday, the previous seven-day average was 13 times higher than the same figure for the week ending May 15, 2021.

Hermawan Saputra, a member of the Indonesian Association of Public Health Experts (IAKMI) said the decline in positive cases might not reflect a downward trend.

“From an epidemiological perspective, cases could continue to rise and could still break records at least until next week,” Hermawan told BenarNews.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Siti Nadia Tarmizi said officials met Monday night to discuss emergency restrictions imposed on July 3 on Java and Bali islands and on July 6 in 15 regencies and municipalities elsewhere, but did not come to an agreement. The restrictions were due to expire on July 20.

“Just wait. It expires tomorrow and there will be a decision whether to extend or not,” Siti told reporters on Monday.

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, said the government should extend the lockdown for the next two weeks to save the health system.

“Our health facilities are extremely strained. The death rate is also still high. If it is not extended, the situation will worsen,” Dicky told BenarNews.

Instead of relaxing restrictions, the government should take a hardline stance against COVID-19, Dicky said.

“The government should aim for 1 million tests and 1 million vaccinations daily and impose restrictions at entry points,” he said.

Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas urged people from the Muslim majority to abide by the government’s order not to hold public prayer gatherings on the Eid-ul-Adha holiday, or Day of Sacrifice, which falls on Tuesday in Indonesia.

“Let’s uphold the sanctity of life. Stay at home to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission,” he said in a televised address.

Indonesian Muslims gather at a market in Bogor to buy goats and cows to be sacrificed for the upcoming Eid-ul-Adha festival, July 19, 2021. [AFP]

Bed shortages

At least 527 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died while self-isolating at home between June 25 and July 15, according to LaporCOVID-19, a volunteer group that tracks pandemic data. Bed shortages caused by the explosion in positive cases forced hospitals to turn away patients.

Still, things could be looking up, health authorities said on Monday.

In West Java, home to the majority of those who died while self-isolating, the hospital occupancy rate has fallen to 80 percent from around 91 in early July, the head of the provincial coronavirus task force, Daud Achmad, told the state-run Antara news agency.

“Hospital occupancy has consistently decreased since the emergency restrictions were enforced,” he told Antara.

The capital Jakarta has seen more spaces for patients after authorities converted the Hajj dormitory into a COVID-19 emergency hospital with 1,000 beds, Deputy Health Minister Dante Saksono Harbuwono said on Saturday.

“This may be due to the significant addition of beds. We hope that in the next few days there won’t be too many patients,” Dante told a virtual press conference.

COVID-19 patients may be able to breathe because of 30,000 oxygen concentrators being sent to hospitals, the ministry said. A shortage of oxygen was blamed for dozens of deaths at a hospital in the central Java city of Yogyakarta earlier this month.

Declining confidence

Meanwhile, a survey released on Sunday suggested that public confidence in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic fell to 43 percent, from 56.5 percent in February.

The Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) poll conducted in June, at the onset of the explosion in infections, involved 12,000 respondents.

“In June, for the first time, the level of confidence in the president was below 50 percent,” said Djayadi Hanan, executive director of the polling firm.

Nabil Ahmad Fauzi, head of the political department of the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), urged the government to prioritize handling the pandemic instead of focusing on economic concerns.

“We call on the president and other government institutions to be more serious in doing their jobs,” he told BenarNews.

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Indonesian volunteer motorcyclists escort an ambulance carrying the body of a COVID-19 victim on its way to a cemetery to on the outskirts of Jakarta, July 11, 2021. [AP]

The Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association warned that 400 restaurants in the greater Jakarta area could close permanently if the lockdown is extended, CNN Indonesia reported.

The association’s deputy chairman, Emil Arifin, predicted those restaurants could lose a combined 5 trillion rupiah (U.S. $343.8 million) during the pandemic.

“Five restaurant groups alone stand to lose 1 trillion ($68.8 million) during the pandemic, maybe more,” he said.

The Indonesian Trade Union Association (Aspect) said many companies had been forced to lay off workers during the pandemic.

“You can imagine, even the middle classes are struggling, let alone people in the lower class,” Aspect president Mirah Sumirat said.

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