Indonesia registers record high in Covid-19 infections as cases rise among children

People rest on camp beds inside the emergency ward for Covid-19 patients at a hospital in Jakarta on June 29, 2021.
People rest on camp beds inside the emergency ward for Covid-19 patients at a hospital in Jakarta on June 29, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia is finalising emergency social restrictions aimed at containing a surge in coronavirus cases in the world's fourth most populous country, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday (June 30).

"Today it will be finalised because the spike is very high," said the president, popularly known as Jokowi, at an event hosted by the Indonesian chamber of commerce, noting that the restrictions would be applied on the islands of Java and Bali.

The authorities are mulling over whether to keep the tighter restrictions for a week or two weeks, said Mr Widodo, without saying when he expected the new measure to be announce .

Indonesia has reported record rates of Covid-19 infections of more than 20,000 in recent days, in a new wave fuelled by the emergence of highly transmissible virus variants and increased mobility after the Muslim fasting month.

The country on Wednesday recorded its biggest daily number with 21,807 infections, according to health ministry data. The data also showed 467 new deaths, taking the total to 58,491. Indonesia has recorded 2,178,272 cases overall, second to only India in Asia.

Movement curbs were tightened last week in so called "red zone" areas where cases have jumped, but health experts said these have not been sufficient to stop the spread of the virus.

The hospital bed occupancy ratio was 72 per cent nationally, said Mr Widodo, but the local authorities said rates were higher in several cities including Jakarta, where medical emergency units have been shifted to tents outside hospitals.

"I ask that we all be careful and don't let our guard down. Don't just talk about the economy, while we don't see the health aspect," said  Mr Widodo.

The president has previously resisted calls from health experts for full lockdowns and warned last week that curbs should be implemented so that they avoid killing the economy.

Mr Widodo on Wednesday also pledged to accelerate the country's vaccination campaign to achieve a target of one million doses a day in July and two million in August.

"There is no bargaining", he said, noting vaccination rates had fallen short at 200,000 to 300,000 shots a day recently.

Only 13 million Indonesia have received two vaccine shots. Out of its population of more than 270 million, 181.5 million are set to be vaccinated by January 2022.

The number of Indonesian children contracting the coronavirus has almost tripled since May, with infant deaths from Covid-19 rising sharply, a senior paediatrician said on Wednesday.

Dr Aman Pulungan, head of Indonesia’s paediatric society, said weekly child deaths from Covid-19 rose to 24 last week from 13 in the previous week, many under five years old.

That was a larger rate of increase than the overall rise in Covid-19 deaths from 1,783 to 2,476 fatalities nationwide over the same period.

Dr Aman said infections among minors were rising fast.

"It is increasing now. In mid-May, there were about 2,000 to 2,500 cases per week,” he said. "Last week, there were more than 6,000 cases." 

The percentage of overall cases that were under 18 years of age has risen to 12.6 per cent in June compared with 5 per cent in July last year, according to official data, although Dr Aman noted more children were now being tested.

Mr Widodo this week announced that the authorities had given the green light for children aged 12 to 17 to be inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine.

Dr Aman said paediatricians were already seeing cases of “long Covid” - debilitating and lingering symptoms months after infection - among Indonesian children.

He believed the rising infections among children was more likely pandemic fatigue and lack of knowledge than the impact of more transmissible variants.

He said: "It’s not the Delta variant, but the system," he said, referring to the variant first identified in India. "Less testing, less tracing. And people still don’t think that children can suffer and die from Covid-19. Awareness is still low."