Jakarta hospitals house patients in tents as doctors face burnout amid soaring Covid-19 infections

Many families of Covid-19 patients struggle to find hospital beds.
Many families of Covid-19 patients struggle to find hospital beds.ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

JAKARTA - Tents have popped up and spaces repurposed as hospitals in Jakarta find themselves barely coping with the soaring numbers of Covid-19 patients that have also left medical workers with fatigue and burnout.

Some hospitals have converted their emergency units into isolation sites for Covid-19 cases, as they tend to patients with urgent, non-Covid-19 conditions, such as those injured in accidents, in newly erected tents at their carparks.

Others are taking care of Covid-19 patients with mild and moderate symptoms in open tents.

The Indonesian capital, home to more than 11 million people, recorded 7,680 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday (June 30), bringing the overall tally to 543,468 - around one fourth of the nationwide tally of 2.18 million.

The tally includes health workers too. As at Monday, 401 doctors and 325 nurses have died of Covid-19, based on data compiled by citizen platform LaporCovid-19.

Calls for a strict lockdown have mounted in Jakarta as the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus boosts the multiplication of cases around the epicentre of the pandemic and neighbouring Banten and West Java provinces.

The national government, led by Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, is finalising details on stricter restrictions in Java and Bali to contain a sharp increase in infections, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday.

In a tent at Kramat Jati General Hospital in East Jakarta, doctors were busy sorting out patients with mild to severe symptoms before deciding who would stay in its intensive care units (ICUs). A few patients and their families were queueing quietly for a check-up, unfazed by the sound of a funeral car waiting at the carpark.

"Compared to (what we saw in) February, the speed at which the cases are adding up (in June) is very high. In just three or four days, the hospital has been full," Dr Nur Chandra Bunawan, an internal medicine physician at the hospital, told The Straits Times (ST).

As it has only six ICU beds, the hospital is now treating around 30 patients with severe symptoms in regular wards that were converted into isolation rooms and repurposing dozens of others, going beyond its overall capacity of about 70 beds. Its emergency room is for critically-ill patients, while its lobby is now turned into wards. 

"Medical workers have experienced fatigue, burnout," said Dr Nur Chandra, a 35-year-old father of a toddler. "Sometimes, I wonder if we can win over this virus. But still, we cannot give up. With the available manpower and facilities, we must serve all patients."

Dr Galuh Chandra Kirana Sugianto described the unexpected sharp rise of incoming Covid-19 patients since the end of May as "a storm", pushing the two private hospitals where she works to add beds each week.

One of the hospitals, which opened in April last year with 30 beds, has added 15 to 20 beds weekly, bringing the total to about 150 beds.

"This is the worst period in my nearly 1½-year history of handling Covid-19," the 35-year-old internal medicine physician told ST.

She said: "I can see 70 to 100 patients during my shift. It's extremely tiring."

And there are days when she has to take on another shift back to back in the second private hospital, where she takes care of another 30 patients.

"Sometimes, I don't enter the wards because I really can't (do it) any more. Then I just monitor (the patients) from CCTV or have video calls with them," she added.

While healthcare workers experience fatigue and burnout, many families of Covid-19 patients struggle to find hospital beds as the bed occupancy ratio across Jakarta has exceeded 90 per cent.

A West Jakarta resident, who refused to be named, said that she and her family had checked a number of hospitals in Jakarta and Tangerang for their 69-year-old father who had shortness of breath, only to find waiting lists of up to 30 patients in some of the hospitals.

"After the three-day quarantine (at home), my father's situation worsened. On the fourth day, he finally got admitted," she told ST at Tarakan General Hospital in Central Jakarta where his father was lying unconscious in an ICU. "At least, we feel more relieved (this way) than keeping him at home."

LaporCovid-19, which helps people find hospital beds, has received 65 requests for 83 beds from June 16 to June 29, much higher than the 36 requests for 52 beds between Dec 24 last year and Jan 30, the period when cases peaked.

"It has never happened before in Indonesia. We are experiencing what has occurred in India, such as a queue to bury the dead and shortage of oxygen supply. Why don't we consider this as an emergency?" said Dr Tri Maharani, a volunteer of LaporCovid-19 and an emergency medicine doctor.

Mr Jan Gelfand, head of Indonesia's delegation at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which aids the Indonesian Red Cross to ramp up treatment of people, said: "Every day, we are seeing this Delta variant driving Indonesia closer to the edge of a Covid-19 catastrophe."