Indonesia hits half million coronavirus cases as hospitals are strained

Women wearing protective masks walking as a drinks vendor sits waiting for the customers at Tanah Abang textile market in Jakarta on Monday (Nov 23, 2020). - Reuters

JAKARTA, Nov 23 (Reuters): Indonesia hit a grim milestone on Monday in surpassing 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.

Those numbers confirmed on Monday are also among the highest in Asia.

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 Ahmad Rozali, a clothes trader at Tanah Abang market.

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

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

A glasses vendor wearing a protective mask uses a smartphone while waiting for the customers at Tanah Abang textile market, as the outbreak of Covid-19 continues in Jakarta on Monday (Nov 23, 2020). - ReutersA glasses vendor wearing a protective mask uses a smartphone while waiting for the customers at Tanah Abang textile market, as the outbreak of Covid-19 continues in Jakarta on Monday (Nov 23, 2020). - Reuters

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% 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 was 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% and also hovering above 70% 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 did not rise further.
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