JAKARTA • Indonesia hit a grim milestone yesterday in surpassing more than half a million cases of the coronavirus, as hospitals across the country's most populated province edged closer towards capacity.
Indonesia now has 502,110 infections and 16,002 deaths from Covid-19, the highest numbers in South-east Asia, having struggled to contain the spread since its first case in March.
Public health experts say shortfalls in testing and contact tracing and a consistently high positivity rate indicate the real numbers are likely to be significantly higher.
In the capital Jakarta, where relatively loose social curbs will stay in place till Dec 6, some met the milestone with glum resignation.
"The government isn't serious and the people are getting fatigued," said clothes trader Ahmad Rozali at Tanah Abang market.
Another trader, Ms Dewi Nuraini, 45, said: "There's an air of fear among the people."
Describing the economy as "crumbling", she added: "If we want to start a business, it will meet a dead end."
Indonesia has recorded a daily average of almost 4,000 new cases so far this month, with a spike in some provinces straining hospitals on the main island of Java.
In Bandung, the capital of West Java province, which has almost 50 million people, occupancy at 27 referral hospitals was 88.8 per cent yesterday, city secretary Ema Surmana told Reuters, with 698 of 786 beds for virus patients taken.
West Java epidemiologist Panji Fortuna Hadisoemarto said local and national transmission patterns indicate Indonesia's struggle with the virus is far from over.
West Java's occupancy rate in its Covid-19 wards was 73 per cent, and also hovering above 70 per cent were Banten and Central Java provinces, according to an internal Health Ministry document seen by Reuters.
Meanwhile, new Covid-19 cases have been recorded following a series of mass gatherings centred around the return of Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab from self-exile in Saudi Arabia on Nov 10.
He was mobbed by thousands of supporters at the Jakarta international airport and thousands more attended his daughter's wedding on Nov 14, alarming the health authorities. There were also gatherings at FPI's headquarters in Petamburan, Central Jakarta.
Data received by the national Covid-19 task force last Thursday revealed that seven out 15 people who had taken swab tests in Petamburan turned out to be positive for the disease.
REUTERS, THE JAKARTA POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK