Indonesia hits 2 million virus cases as crisis deepens

·3-min read
A funeral at a cemetery for Covid-19 coronavirus victims in Jakarta

Indonesia passed two million coronavirus cases Monday as infection rates soar and hospitals are flooded with new patients, prompting warnings that the Southeast Asian nation's health crisis could spiral out of control.

The unwanted milestone comes after daily case rates more than doubled in recent weeks and authorities identified the presence of highly infectious Covid-19 variants.

On Monday, official figures showed that Indonesia had recorded a daily record high of 14,536 cases, taking the total to just over two million with nearly 55,000 deaths, among a population of nearly 270 million.

But those figures are widely thought to be a severe undercount, due to low testing and contact tracing -- some experts have said that official cases may only be about 10 percent of the real number.

"It's starting to bubble up to the surface, like a time bomb," said Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist at Indonesia's Airlangga University.

"This is just the beginning. Depending on how things are handled, we could end up with a major explosion like in India."

Case numbers are spiking as Indonesia grapples with new virus strains, including the highly infectious Delta variant first identified in India.

The rise has also been blamed on millions travelling across the Muslim-majority nation at the end of Ramadan, despite an official ban on the annual migration.

Hospital occupancy rates have soared to over 75 percent in Jakarta and other hard-hit areas, while funerals for Covid-19 victims have also reportedly jumped.

"It's worrying," Jakarta resident Rahmani told AFP at a cemetery where he attended the funeral of a relative who died of the virus.

"As good citizens we have to follow government orders to obey health protocols."

- Younger victims -

The Indonesian Medical Association said the variants appeared to be sickening younger people.

"Previously, Covid-19 patients were elderly or those with [pre-existing conditions]," the association's Covid-19 spokeswoman Erlina Burhan said earlier.

"But since the virus variants were detected, a lot of patients were younger" and did not have pre-existing conditions, she added.

Widespread rule-breaking on mask-wearing and other health protocols, as well as vaccine scepticism, are among factors cited for the worsening situation.

The World Health Organization has called for tougher movement restrictions.

Indonesia's government, widely criticised for a weak pandemic response, said Monday it would temporarily beef up restrictions in the capital Jakarta and other hot spots -- but enforcement has been lacklustre.

While Indonesia has not put major cities under the kind of strict measures rolled out in some virus-hit nations, dozens of communities in Central Java's Kudus regency were put into lockdown after the Delta variant was spotted in local testing samples.

And a rash of severe cases in inoculated medical workers has raised questions about the China-produced Sinovac jab, which Indonesia is heavily relying on to vaccinate more than 180 million people by early next year.

This month, more than 300 vaccinated doctors and health-care workers in Central Java were found to have been infected with Covid-19, with about a dozen hospitalised.

Nearly 1,000 Indonesian health workers have died from the virus since the pandemic started.

Indonesia is ramping up inoculations by expanding the programme to anyone over 18 and eyeing incentives, such as giving away free live chickens to older people willing to get jabbed, in a rural part of West Java.

But there is widespread misinformation about the pandemic, and many are sceptical about vaccines.

"I'm convinced that we don't need to react excessively," said Jakarta-area resident Rateka Winner Lee.

"My wife and I both had Covid-19 before so we already have the natural vaccine inside our body."

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