Indonesia ‘on edge of catastrophe’ as COVID lockdown looms

Red Cross appeals for urgent medical supplies and vaccines as archipelago battles surge in cases.

Gravediggers wearing personal protective equipment carry a coffin from an ambulance to the burial area provided by the government for victims of COVID-19 in Jakarta on Monday [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]
Gravediggers wearing personal protective equipment carry a coffin from an ambulance to the burial area provided by the government for victims of COVID-19 in Jakarta on Monday [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

The Red Cross has warned that Indonesia is “on the edge of catastrophe”, as coronavirus infections fuelled by the deadlier Delta variant surge across the country are pushing the health system towards collapse.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) said on Tuesday that urgent increases are needed in medical care, testing and vaccinations in the Southeast Asian nation as it faces a medical emergency that is already overwhelming hospitals and threatening the supply of medical oxygen in the capital, Jakarta, and other areas.

“Every day we are seeing this Delta variant driving Indonesia closer to the edge of a COVID-19 catastrophe,” Jan Gelfand, head of the IFRC in Indonesia said in a statement.

“We need lightning-fast action globally so that countries like Indonesia have access to the vaccines needed to avert tens of thousands of deaths. We must focus on getting vaccinations into the arms of those most at-risk and all adults everywhere to contain this virus.”

The latest numbers from the Indonesian COVID task force on Monday showed almost 20,700 new cases in one day, pushing the total since the start of the pandemic to more than 2.1 million. A further 423 people died from the coronavirus taking the death toll to more than 57,500.

Adding to the dire situation is the country’s slow pace of vaccination, with less than 5 percent of its 270 million population fully vaccinated – or about 13.1 million people, according to the health ministry. At least 27.4 million have received the first dose.

Indonesia is mostly using the Sinovac vaccine from China to inoculate its population, after taking part in a late-stage trial of the jab.

The IFRC noted that Indonesia faces global vaccine inequity in acquiring the 360 million doses it needs to vaccinate at least 70 percent of its citizens – the ideal threshold set by the World Health Organization to achieve herd immunity.

With cases surging, the administration of President Joko Widodo is reportedly mulling plans to impose a lockdown, Singapore’s Straits Times reported on Tuesday. Widodo is expected to meet health officials later on Tuesday to consider the plan, the paper said.

‘Close to collapse’

On Friday, medical officials in the province of West Java, just outside of Jakarta, said bed occupancy rates in hospitals had exceeded 90 percent, with some hospitals exceeding 100 percent, pushing the health system “close to collapse”.

In Jakarta, the surge in cases has forced hospitals to set up emergency tents, according to the Detik news website. There have also been appeals to the government to turn the Gelora Bung Karno sports complex in the capital into an emergency hospital, Kompas TV reported on Tuesday.

There have also been reports that nearly 1,000 Indonesian health workers have died from the virus since the pandemic started, with the country’s medical association confirming on Friday the 401 deaths among the medical doctors, including 14 who were fully vaccinated.

This month, more than 300 vaccinated doctors and healthcare workers in Central Java were also found to have been infected with COVID-19.

More than 20 percent of COVID-19 tests in Indonesia are positive, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, indicating that the number of people who are sick and infected is likely to be even more widespread than the headline figures suggest.

“We are seeing record number of infections, but every statistic is a person who is suffering, grieving or struggling to support the people they love,” said Sudirman Said, secretary-general of the Indonesian Red Cross.

In Bogor, West Java, the Red Cross COVID-19 hospital is described as “overflowing”, with patients and their families travelling for hours so they can access vital medical care, according to Sudirman.

With the support of IFRC, the Red Cross has ramped up efforts to treat patients in the country, with almost 6,500 volunteers providing medical services from testing, administering vaccine and transport to hospital.

The surge in cases in Indonesia has also forced the government to delay the reopening of Bali to international tourism.

Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and the Cultural Economy Sandiaga Uno said although 71 percent of Balinese have already received their first vaccine dose, the government will wait for cases to fall more significantly before they allow international travellers to return to the island.

Source: Al Jazeera

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