Indonesia to import oxygen tanks as Covid-19 spike dries supply

All domestic oxygen production will be allocated for medical use for the time being. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - Indonesia plans to start importing oxygen tanks as the country battles a fresh wave of coronavirus infections that has overwhelmed its medical system.

The government is urging those with mild symptoms to be treated at home "because hospitals are full," Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a parliamentary hearing on Monday (July 5).

Local media have reported that hospitals in Java, the country's most populated island, are facing a shortage of oxygen.

More than 30 patients died in a hospital on Saturday in Yogyakarta after it briefly ran out of supply, CNN Indonesia reported on Sunday.

Bed occupancy rates at hospitals across the nation have hit 74 per cent, with some exceeding 100 per cent, said Ms Lia Gardenia Partakusuma, secretary general of the National Hospital Association.

South-east Asia's biggest economy recorded another deadliest day on Monday as fatalities hit 558 in the past 24 hours and 29,745 tested positive for the virus.

More than 2.3 million have been infected, the worst in South-east Asia.

The latest outbreak threatens economic recovery as the government warns growth may slow to around 4 per cent in the second quarter amid tighter curbs on movements. Growth may improve in the third quarter if the virus spread can be contained by July, said Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

The numbers are likely to stay high over the next 10-14 days, driven by the highly contagious delta strain of the virus, Mr Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, who leads the pandemic response in Java and Bali, told reporters on Saturday.

Mobility has to be reduced by 50 per cent to be able to slow the spread of the delta variant, according to health ministry's spokesman Jodi Mahardi.

More than 1,000 doctors, nurses and other medical staff have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began last year, Ms Lia said. A small number of them died even after completing two doses of vaccines.

The Indonesian Doctors Association suggested on Monday that a third shot be given to health workers in the hopes of improving the effectiveness of the vaccination.

CEO of Indonesia's biggest industrial gas producer Samator Group Arief Harsono was among the latest victims. Mr Harsono, who ironically was part of an effort to increase oxygen supplies to hospitals across the country, died of the illness on Friday, Kompas newspaper reported on Saturday.

The country may be able to reach herd immunity in November as vaccination covers 70 per cent of the population, health minister Mr Budi said. More than 32 million people have received at least their first dose, with over 46 million shots administered by Monday, according to latest ministry data.

All domestic oxygen production will be allocated for medical use for the time being, Mr Mahardi said. Indonesia has around 1.5 million to 1.8 million oxygen cylinders, but the recent spike in cases has caused a slow throughput, according to an Industry Ministry statement.

Meanwhile, the nation's food and drug regulator, known as BPOM, said it is finalising emergency use of authorisation for Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine after issuing the approval for the vaccine made by Moderna last week.

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