The Indonesian island of Bali is running out of oxygen for its COVID-19 patients as infections surge, the chief of its health agency has said, as Southeast Asia’s biggest country struggles with the region’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.
Bali, famous for its tourist beaches and temples, along with the main island of Java and 15 other regions, is under tight coronavirus restrictions that are due to expire on Sunday.
The government is debating whether to extend them.
“We’ve had an oxygen shortage since July 14 and it’s getting critical by the day because of a surge in new cases,” Ketut Suarjaya, the head of Bali’s health agency, was quoted as saying by Antara state news agency on Friday.
“There’s an oxygen crisis in Bali.”
Suarjaya said patients in Bali needed 113.3 tonnes of oxygen on Thursday, while hospitals only had 40.5 tonnes.
Oxygen shortages have also been seen in Java. The government has begun to import oxygen supplies from countries such as the United States and China.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, has had more than three million coronavirus infections and 80,598 deaths, according to official data. The spread, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, has shown no sign of slowing.
Research organisation Our World in Data said the country had a death rate three times higher than the global average. Indonesia’s daily death toll has been consistently above 1,000 since July 16, with experts saying the numbers are likely to be higher due to low coronavirus testing. On Friday, it reported a record daily number of 1,566 COVID-19 deaths.
The debate over coronavirus restrictions has pitted health experts, who say it is premature to ease curbs during the surge of infections, against employer groups that have warned of mass layoffs unless the curbs are relaxed.
Fears of new variant emerging
Countries in Asia are seeing some of their worst outbreaks to date, with Indonesia becoming a new global hotspot as Vietnam and Thailand face new anti-virus rules.
Representatives of two of the world’s leading coronavirus research groups in the US have expressed concerns that the situation in Indonesia is ripe for the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant of concern.
“The more infections in a community, the more a chance for a new variant,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.
He also expressed concern about this week’s Eid al-Adha religious festival and the “activity around it”.
Indonesia’s COVID-19 task force issued a special directive for the holiday week, banning public travel nationwide.
Thousands of security personnel have been deployed around the country to enforce the travel ban, after a similar order at Eid al-Fitr in May, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, did little to stop people from travelling.