Coronavirus Indonesia

Covid-19 cases in Indonesia surge past 1 million

Hospitals strained to the limit, with reports of victims dying after failing to get admitted

Mourners at Srengseng Sawah cemetery complex, a burial area in Jakarta provided by the government for Covid-19 victims, on Monday.
Mourners at Srengseng Sawah cemetery complex, a burial area in Jakarta provided by the government for Covid-19 victims, on Monday. PHOTO: REUTERS
A nurse attending to a patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Bogor, West Java province, yesterday.
A nurse attending to a patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Bogor, West Java province, yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia has passed one million coronavirus cases as hospitals are pushed to the brink, straining under the pandemic which has gripped the world's fourth-most populous nation since last March.

The country recorded 1.01 million cases as at yesterday, after seeing 13,094 infections in the past 24 hours. Overall deaths stood at 28,468.

Across Indonesia, stories of patients - even those seeking life-or-death medical help - being bounced around by overwhelmed hospitals are commonplace.

IT professional Tia lost her grandmother to Covid-19 after a long search for a hospital bed.

The 28-year-old's ordeal began when she and her uncle tested positive for the disease on New Year's Eve. Then, a day later, her grandmother began to wheeze.

They searched in vain for a room for the 80-year-old at five hospitals in the city of Depok, West Java, and neighbouring Jakarta. The fifth hospital they tried had about 30 patients on its waiting list.

At home, the elderly woman with hypertension was treated with medical oxygen before she weakened. On Jan 4, her relatives checked with six Depok hospitals, but they were full. Fortunately, her family later managed to get her admitted to a Jakarta hospital. But her health indicators, such as oxygen saturation, worsened and she died on Jan 6.

"Like other families whose members were infected by Covid-19, we felt we were not ready to lose her too early," Ms Tia, who declined to give her full name, told The Straits Times. "Perhaps, it would have been better if many more (hospital) rooms were available so that critical patients could be handled quickly."

Hospitals in Indonesia - where tighter restrictions have been imposed across Java and Bali since Jan 11 - have been increasingly overwhelmed by the massive influx of Covid-19 patients, and epidemiologists fear the potential collapse of the country's healthcare system.

Since the end of last month, citizen coalition LaporCovid-19 has received at least 34 reports from Greater Jakarta, West Java, Central Java and East Java of patients - rejected by fully occupied hospitals - dying while travelling to find hospitals or dying at home after being turned away. One family in Depok said that on Jan 3, a relative died in a taxi after being rejected by 10 Covid-19 referral hospitals.

While much effort is now dedicated to an ongoing national vaccination programme, the government should continue to curb the pandemic through testing and contact tracing, and making sure its residents adhere to health protocols, while also restricting their mobility, epidemiologists have warned.

"People have been advised to wear masks, keep a safe distance and wash their hands, but the diverse educational and economic backgrounds affect the level of awareness," said Mr Hermawan Saputra from the Indonesian Public Health Expert Association. "Returning to the large-scale social restrictions is necessary to lower the number of cases. That's the way to ease the burden on our health facilities and health workers."

The country, which is struggling with the worst outbreak in South-east Asia, recorded its three highest numbers of daily deaths within a span of eight days - 308 on Jan 19, 346 last Thursday and 336 yesterday - as its hospitals face escalating pressure from the pandemic.

A Jakarta-based doctor treating Covid-19 patients described the two hospitals where she was working as having been "hectic and overloaded" since the middle of last month. In one of them, a newly opened ward with around 20 beds was full soon after its opening. The other hospital, despite doubling its capacity, still had a queue of over 15 patients for intensive care beds.

"We are exhausted physically and mentally," the doctor told ST. "We are afraid all parties will become complacent because of the vaccination."

She highlighted the potential for government policy flip-flops to contribute to the soaring number of cases and complacency from the general public.

Dr Sutrisno, chairman of East Java's chapter of the Indonesian Medical Association, said 385 hospitals across the province of 42 million people were overflowing with Covid-19 patients.

"The occupancy rate is above 90 per cent. Some hospitals are full and closed admission of new patients," he told ST. "Patients are stranded in emergency rooms because there's no more space."

Ms Tia said after what happened to her family, she now viewed Covid-19 in a way that went beyond the statistics. "Those passing away are not just numbers," she said. "They are someone's beloved ones, just like my grandmother to me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2021, with the headline 'Covid-19 cases in Indonesia surge past 1 million'. Subscribe