Indonesia hits half million coronavirus cases as hospitals face strain

Indonesia has recorded a daily average of almost 4,000 new cases so far in November 2020. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia hit a grim milestone on Monday (Nov 23) when it surpassed 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 restrictions will remain in place until Dec 6, some met the milestone with glum resignation.

"The government isn't serious and the people are getting fatigued," said Mr Ahmad Rozali, a clothes trader at Tanah Abang market.

"There's an air of fear among the people," said another trader, Ms Dewi Nuraini, 45, who described the economy as "crumbling".

"If we want to start a business," she said, "it will meet a dead end."

Indonesia has recorded a daily average of almost 4,000 new cases so far in November, with a spike in some provinces straining hospitals on the main island of Java.

In Bandung, the capital of West Java, a province of almost 50 million people, occupancy at 27 referral hospitals was 88.8 per cent on Monday, city secretary Ema Surmana told Reuters, with 698 of the 786 beds for coronavirus 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.

"If it happens in West Java, it doesn't necessarily happen elsewhere," he said.

"But looking at the trend, it is still increasing in all provinces... Nowhere's reached its peak."

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.

The ministry did not immediately respond to request for comment on those rates.

Covid-19 task force head Doni Monardo earlier on Monday said more should be done to ensure hospital occupancy does not rise further.

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