COVID-19: Indonesia faces virus surge, shortage of oxygen

Gravediggers bury a body as relatives stand behind in Jakarta on July 7, 2021. Image Credit: REUTERS

JAKARTA: Indonesia is facing a coronavirus surge as hospitals grapple with soaring cases amid widespread shortages of oxygen.

The country registered 1,040 confirmed deaths on Wednesday, the deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals are already beyond capacity and oxygen supplies are running out, leaving individuals to cope with caring for sick friends and relatives at home. “This is our critical period during the next two weeks,’’ says Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the government minister in charge of Indonesia’s pandemic response.

In the capital, daily burials have increased 10-fold since May, said Ngabila Salama, head of surveillance and immunization at the Jakarta Health Office. Of the 369 COVID-19 deaths in Jakarta reported Saturday, 45 people died at home, she said.

Overall, Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, has reported nearly 2.4 million infections and almost 63,000 confirmed deaths. Both numbers are considered undercounts because of low testing and tracing measures.

The worlds fourth most populous nation has implemented its tightest restrictions so far on Java and Bali islands after an exponential jump in COVID-19 cases, fuelled by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, first identified in India.

Still, with bigger outbreaks now occurring in places like Papua and Sumatra, regional leaders have been urged to implement curbs, including ensuring offices and malls operate at 25% capacity, and restaurants and malls close by 5 pm.

With criticism growing over Indonesia’s response, an alliance of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International Indonesia and the Legal Aid Institute, called on the government to apologise for mishandling the COVID-19 crisis.

Authorities on Wednesday threatened to revoke licences of companies staying open and issued guidelines on office capacity for critical businesses after raiding dozens of companies for flouting rules.


The spike in cases has fuelled a growing sense of anxiety about Indonesia’s fragile healthcare system and its capacity to handle an unfolding health crisis.

On social media, messages pleading for help to find oxygen tanks and hospital beds have circulated, as hospitals across Java edge closer to full capacity.

The government has set up an oxygen refilling station in Jakarta to supply hospitals and said that all oxygen produced in the country will be diverted for medical use.

But stocks of portable oxygen had run dry in six cities on Java by Wednesday, including Yogyakarta and Solo, according to M. Hendry Setiawan, an official at the Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU).

Authorities have warned people against hoarding oxygen tanks and medical equipment, with more patients being treated, and sometimes dying, at home because they cant find a hospital bed.

“Hospitals should be accepting patients that have tested positive because my brother has been rejected…and we don’t know if we can take care of him at home,” said Harfan Dani, 35, a resident queuing to buy oxygen.

This week, the health minister promised to boost telemedicine services for those isolating at home with milder symptoms, and add up to 8,000 more hospital beds.

But doctors have questioned how they can staff new facilities, with thousands of healthcare workers forced to isolate after contracting the respiratory disease, despite being vaccinated.