Indonesia rolls out tougher curbs as virus cases skyrocket

Indonesia imposed a partial lockdown Saturday in the capital Jakarta, across the main island of Java and on Bali as the Southeast Asian nation grappled with an unprecedented wave of coronavirus infections.

Mosques, restaurants and shopping malls were shuttered in virus hotspots around the Muslim-majority country, which recorded more than 25,000 new cases and 539 deaths on Friday, both new daily records.

Indonesia’s daily caseload has more than quadrupled in less than a month. But the country’s official tally to date, which stands at 2.2 million cases and 59,534 deaths, is widely believed to be a severe undercount due to low testing.

“The stricter restrictions came too late,” said Jakarta resident Maya Puspita Sari.

“Before, people who got Covid-19 were strangers, but now it’s also the people closest to me who are infected… The virus is getting so much closer and it’s terrifying.”

The crisis has pushed Indonesia’s creaky healthcare system to the brink of collapse with tents set up in parking lots to handle patients at jammed medical facilities.

Hospital corridors are overflowing with the sick lying on gurneys, and infected patients have been turned away from facilities unable to cope with the influx.

An increasing number of patients are dying at home.

The highly infectious Delta variant of the virus, first identified in India and now present in at least 85 countries, has been driving the recent wave, accounting for more than 80 percent of new cases in some areas, the health ministry has said.

Experts previously warned that millions travelling nationwide at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in May would trigger an explosion of cases.

The streets of Jakarta were largely deserted Saturday with shops closed as officials turned back non-essential traffic flowing in from the capital’s satellite cities — a massive urban area of some 30 million people.

– Race to vaccinate –

The new measures announced by Indonesian President Joko Widodo this week are set to last until July 20 in hope of bringing daily infections below 10,000.

Widodo, better known as Jokowi, had long resisted the strict lockdowns seen in other virus-wracked nations, saying they could tank Southeast Asia’s biggest economy where millions live hand-to-mouth.

But all non-essential employees are now being ordered to work from home, while classes will only be held online.

The curbs will also apply to holiday island Bali, hit by a recent jump in cases that has delayed plans to reopen to international tourists.

On Saturday, Bali police patrolled beachside eateries to enforce the lockdown.

Underscoring the increasingly desperate situation for hospitals in Java, independent virus data initiative Lapor Covid said it could no longer help families find beds for sick relatives.

“Our volunteers are having trouble finding health facilities” that can take patients, it said on its website.

Health experts warned that the tougher measures may not be enough.

The restrictions still allow for often-jammed public transport to continue operating at a reduced capacity, while domestic sea, air and bus travel will be available for people who have received at least one vaccine dose.

“How do you do physical distancing on public transportation?” said Indonesian epidemiologist Windhu Purnomo.

“The government is still prioritising the economy by letting people move around.”

Serious virus cases among young children, including deaths, were rising steadily while over a dozen fully vaccinated doctors have succumbed to Covid-19 — among nearly 1,000 medical workers who have died since the pandemic began. 

Severe cases in inoculated medical workers has raised questions about the China-produced Sinovac jab, which Indonesia is heavily relying on to vaccinate more than 180 million people by early next year. 

Only about five percent of Indonesia’s population of nearly 270 million has been fully vaccinated with two jabs so far. 

On Friday, the government said it was to receive some four million doses of the Moderna vaccine as well as Pfizer jabs to ramp up inoculation efforts, while it was also starting to vaccinate teenagers to halt the spread.

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