Indonesia beefs up health funds with hospitals in critical condition

Workers wearing protective masks load coffins for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims into an ambulance to be distributed to a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's government on Monday agreed to boost its coronavirus healthcare budget and introduce telemedicine services to non-critical patients, in an effort to reduce pressure on a health system choked by days of record COVID-19 cases.

Indonesia is battling one of Asia's worst coronavirus epidemics, fueled by the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India.

Authorities on Monday reported 558 new deaths, a second day of record fatalities, and 29,745 new infections, the 10th day of record high cases in the past 15 days.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said health spending would be raised again to 193.93 trillion rupiah ($13.39 billion) for coronavirus treatment, testing, tracing, drugs, vaccines and protective gear, larger than the sum announced on Friday.

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said remote services would be provided from Tuesday by telehealth firms such as Alodokter and Halodoc and will include free consultations and medication delivery.

"Positive COVID-19 patients can get medical services on time without waiting in line at hospitals, so that hospitals can be prioritised for patients with medium, heavy, and critical symptoms," he told a news conference.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 75% nationwide as of July 2, the health ministry said, but some hospitals on the most populous island of Java have reported over 90% capacity, including in the capital Jakarta.

Oxygen shortages have also been reported, which authorities attributed to distribution hurdles and limited production capacity.

Luhut Pandjaitan, a senior minister assigned to tackle the case spike on Java and Bali, said oxygen supplies would be ramped up for hospitals and imported if necessary, but said the surge was "under control".

However, at a later news conference, Luhut urged companies not to lay off workers sidelined by emergency restrictions imposed at the weekend and for people to comply with the measures, after heavy traffic in the capital on Monday morning.

"We still see quite significant mobility," he said.

"This will make it difficult for all of us, and will contribute to people infected with COVID, because of your indiscipline," he said.

Indonesia has imposed tougher mobility restrictions in Java and Bali islands, the worst affected regions, and the government on Monday introduced measures to control the spread in 20 other provinces effective Tuesday.

Data initiative group Lapor COVID-19 said 311 people had died in self-isolation from the coronavirus in the past month, demonstrating what it called a failing healthcare system.

"The government needs to acknowledge that this is an emergency situation and needs to apologise or show some empathy," said Irma Hidayana, public health expert and Lapor COVID-19's co-founder.

($1 = 14,484.0000 rupiah)

(Additional reporting by Tabita Diela and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Martin Petty)

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