By Robin Gomes
As the more virulent Delta variant of Covid-19 is causing record surges in infections and deaths in Indonesia, the nation of more than 270 million has become the new epicentre of the pandemic in Asia, replacing India.
With 54,000 infections on Friday, the southeast Asian nation led the world in new daily cases, followed by the United Kingdom with 51,870 cases and Brazil with 45,591. The daily toll on Friday surged to a record high of 1,205 deaths, surpassing the nation’s previous record of 1,040 deaths on July 7.
Indonesia’s cumulative tally of confirmed cases thus rose to 2,780,803 since the government declared Covid-19 a public health emergency on March 31, 2020. Brazil led the world in casualties with 1,450 deaths on Friday. However, the figures are believed to be a conservative estimate due to inadequate testing outside Jakarta.
The incidence of infections is equal to 169 cases per million inhabitants, however, lower not only than the most affected European countries such as Spain (498) but also to other nations of Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia (333).
Healthcare system stretched
The crisis has overwhelmed Indonesia’s healthcare system. The nation has approximately 400,000 hospital beds, 30 per cent of which are allocated for Covid-19 patients. Before the Eid al-Fitr festivity in May this year, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, only 23,000 out of 120,000 beds were occupied, but during the last six to seven weeks, the figure has grown to 90,000, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Tuesday.
The government has focused its Covid-19 response on its most populous island of Java, where hospitals have been deluged with patients seeking treatment, but some more remote regions with far lower vaccination rates have started seeing more infections.
Like most of Asia, Indonesia has been hit by the Delta variant because of the slow vaccination campaign. So far only 15.9 million people, or 5.8% of the population, have received two doses of the vaccine.
Festivities and restrictions
Home to 13% of the world’s Muslims, Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation. Experts say travel and Eid al-Fitr celebrations were partly to blame for igniting the outbreak. Religious affairs minister, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas released a circular on Friday asking people to avoid travelling and gathering for the upcoming Eid-al-Adha festival.
"When the government puts out regulations that protect the people, it's mandatory," he said. The circular also called for animal sacrifices traditionally carried out at this time not to be done with big crowds. However, despite warnings, mosques across the nation were jammed for Friday prayers.
On July 3, authorities ordered the temporary closure of schools, parks, shopping centers and restaurants. President Joko Widodo has now decided to extend the emergency public activity restriction (PPKM) to until the end of the month, a minister has said. Antara News reported Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy as saying on Friday that “the president has decided to extend the PPKM until the end of July”.
Luhut Pandjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment said on Thursday that the government was gearing up for a worst-case scenario. “If we’re talking about 60,000 [new cases per day] or slightly higher than that, it’s still l fine. We’re hoping the figure won’t reach 100,000. But even if we get there, we’re preparing ourselves for the worst-case scenario,” Luhut said.