Covid-19 cases surge in small Java regency; officials investigating if new variant responsible

Kudus regency in central Java has registered a sevenfold increase in cases since the Hari Raya holidays.
Kudus regency in central Java has registered a sevenfold increase in cases since the Hari Raya holidays.ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

JAKARTA - A small, sleepy regency on Indonesia's main Java island has worried those fighting Covid-19.

Kudus regency in central Java has registered a sevenfold increase in cases since the Hari Raya holidays and officials are now investigating if a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus is responsible for the surge.

The number of active cases in the regency, the smallest in Java with a population of 871,000, rose from 137 on May 14 to over 1,000 on Monday (May 31).

The government will be conducting genome sequencing tests on samples collected from patients in Kudus, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a media briefing after meeting President Joko Widodo on the Covid-19 situation on Monday.

Local officials in Kudus have attributed the surge in cases to increased social visits and gatherings around the time of Hari Raya as well as lax enforcement of strict health protocols among visitors at recreational centres.

On Friday, Kudus had 1,031 active cases, of whom 291 were in hospital, and the remaining 740 in self-isolation at home. The regency registered a record 241 daily new cases that day.

The bed occupancy rate of hospitals in Kudus has reached 90 per cent.

"We have transferred (Covid-19) patients from Kudus to hospitals in the surrounding areas and to the provincial capital of Semarang," Mr Budi said while disclosing that 140 medical workers were among those infected.

"Luckily they all had been vaccinated, so the majority of them were asymptomatic. Those with symptoms recovered fast as they had the antibodies," he added.

Nationwide, the authorities have set aside 72,000 hospital beds to treat Covid-19 patients of which 25,000 are occupied, up from around 20,000 last week.

Regions that have reported high bed occupancy rates are Aceh, part of West Sumatra, part of Riau Islands , Riau, Jambi, part of Central Java, West Kalimantan and a few regions in Sulawesi, said Mr Budi.

He appealed to provincial governors, mayors and regents across Indonesia to step up vaccinations, calling for extra efforts to reach out to the elderly. Nationwide, there is widespread hesitancy among the elderly on vaccination, with only about 10 per cent of them so far opting for.

"Those admitted to hospital and didn't make it have been mostly the elderly. Prioritise the elderly. If we could better cover them, the bed occupancy rate would decline and the deaths would also drop substantially," he said.

Mr Budi praised Jakarta, Bali and Yogyakarta provinces, which have managed to achieve a high vaccination rate among their elderly residents. Indonesia has 34 provinces, which are further subdivided into regencies for local administration.

South-east Asia's most populous country had 101,639 active Covid-19 cases as at Sunday. This is far below the 177,000 recorded at the peak of infections in early February. The country is the hardest-hit by the pandemic in South-east Asia, with 1.82 million infections and 50,578 deaths as at Monday.