Coronavirus: Tighter restrictions to contain spread

Healthcare workers in Indonesia under pressure as coronavirus cases surge

Pulmonologist Pompini Agustina Sitompul (at right) at the Sulianti Saroso Infectious Diseases Hospital in Jakarta. She is wearing a protective suit on which is written "Don't be careless", while her colleague's suit reads "We are not afraid". PHOTO:
Pulmonologist Pompini Agustina Sitompul (at right) at the Sulianti Saroso Infectious Diseases Hospital in Jakarta. She is wearing a protective suit on which is written "Don't be careless", while her colleague's suit reads "We are not afraid". PHOTO: POMPINI AGUSTINA SITOMPUL

Dr Galuh Chandra Kirana Sugianto has been very busy at a private hospital in Jakarta since last month.

The specialist in internal medicine is taking care of up to 30 Covid-19 patients three days a week, on top of her duties at another two hospitals.

The number of patients, including those in the intensive care unit (ICU), is the most she has ever had to handle.

"We face high risks each time we report for duty. Although we try to comply with the protocols, we won't know how we can contract the virus," Dr Galuh told The Sunday Times.

The private hospital, which began accepting Covid-19 patients since April, has a capacity of some 130 beds but can utilise only up to 50 due to a lack of manpower.

As demand picked up, the hospital expanded the number of ICU beds to 10 last week, two more than before, although without any increase in staff.

"Many health workers, especially those having babies or toddlers and elderly parents, are reluctant to serve at hospitals designated for Covid-19 patients due to the significant risks," said Dr Galuh, who has been staying apart from her family since being roped in to deal with the pandemic.

The grim situation is not unique to the private hospital where Dr Galuh works. It is one of 67 referral hospitals in Jakarta, a city of 10 million where the number of infections has shot up by around 1,000 a day.

Sulianti Saroso Infectious Diseases Hospital, which has all of its 50 beds assigned to treat Covid-19 patients, has seen occupancy rates surge to 90 per cent since August, said Dr Pompini Agustina Sitompul, one of its six pulmonologists. Waiting lists can be as long as 40 patients when the hospital is full, she said.

For the past six months, Dr Pompini has worked seven days a week and made herself available round the clock, sometimes picking up emergency calls in the middle of the night. “Physically we are exhausted, but we should keep our spirits up,” she said.

Dr Erlina Burhan, a spokesman for Persahabatan General Hospital, which has 208 beds, including 16 ICU beds, said the occupancy rate for non-ICU beds was higher than 70 per cent.

ICU beds were occupied all the time, resulting in a long queue.

"We saw a decline in patients in April and May following the strict partial lockdown, but when it was eased, the number of patients climbed again," she said.


"I am worried about fatigue among our health workers. They really need rest. Otherwise, they fall sick," she added.

A survey of 1,461 health workers nationwide by the University of Indonesia's faculty of medicine found that 83 per cent of them had experienced burnout.

The Indonesian Medical Association reported that 115 doctors had died of Covid-19.

Yesterday, Jakarta reported 1,205 new Covid-19 cases and 18 more deaths.

Indonesia has recorded 214,746 confirmed Covid-19 cases, of which 52,840 were from Jakarta. The number of deaths totalled 8,650 nationwide, with 1,386 reported in Jakarta alone as of yesterday.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan on Wednesday announced the re-imposition of strict social restrictions from tomorrow to curb the spread of Covid-19, warning that the city's hospitals would reach full capacity by Sept 17 without intervention.

Figures provided by the city administration showed that the occupancy rate of isolation rooms at the 67 referral hospitals had reached 77 per cent, and that for ICUs had hit 83 per cent.

The administration plans to expand capacity by around 20 per cent by pressing more private hospitals to help deal with the surge in cases. This will raise the number of isolation beds to 4,807 from 4,053.


But Mr Anies said this expansion alone would not alleviate the situation.

"If it were not coupled with strict efforts to curb the spread of the virus, we would reach this new capacity by the second week of October," he said.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan yesterday disputed the Jakarta administration's data, saying the overall occupancy rate of hospitals in Jakarta was around 60 per cent, which he described as "a safe level".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2020, with the headline 'Healthcare workers under pressure as cases surge'. Print Edition | Subscribe