Indonesia is doubling its oxygen supply to hospitals as data shows the Delta variant of the coronavirus is now driving a worsening outbreak in the country, accounting for more than 60% of recent cases.
Indonesia’s Health Minister, Budi Gunadi Sadikin, told the Guardian that three-quarters of the national oxygen production used for industry will be moved to hospitals over the next two weeks.
“We are learning from India to make sure the supplies are there,” he said.
Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world with 275 million people, is facing the worst Covid outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
Hospitals in Jakarta and across the island of Java were unable to keep up with demand, prompting the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to warn this week that the country was on the verge of disaster.
The LaporCovid-19 citizen data project has reported being unable to provide beds for sick patients, and said a government website designed to show available hospital space was out of date.
As a sign of crisis, oxygen tanks have become one of the most sought-after items in Java’s big cities, as family and friends try to save loved ones who cannot get proper care. Prices in Jakarta more than doubled from $50 (£36) per tank to $140.
Budi said the government hospital’s availability site, Siranap, was overwhelmed because staff in the affected areas were too busy.
Additional officers will be deployed to 137 hospitals to better manage resources, he said, while telemedicine will also be scaled up.
Three government hospitals, as well as an emergency room, have also been converted to focus solely on treating Covid patients.
“What we have seen in the last three weeks is the transmission speed has increased drastically and also the speed of when [patients] sick – very, very fast [that] they worsen if they have comorbidities,” he said.
Indonesia has performed genome sequencing of around 300 cases over the past three weeks, he said, with results showing that Delta has now become the dominant variant in the country. It accounts for 60% of cases, and more than 80% in areas like Jakarta and Bandung, according to Budi.
Previous government modeling suggested cases would peak in the first week of July, but Budi said the situation was unpredictable given how quickly Delta spread. “It is very difficult to guess correctly because this is a new variant,” he said.
On Thursday, new infections hit nearly 25,000, while 504 deaths were reported, both registering daily gains.
President Joko Widodo announced new restrictions in Jakarta, Java and Bali, requiring non-essential employees to work from home, and for schools to switch to online learning. Shopping centers and mosques will be closed. However, domestic travel is still allowed for people who have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Budi rejected the notion that a national lockdown, with a ban on inter-provincial travel, was necessary. The outbreak was localized, he said.
The government has been criticized by health experts for being too slow to lock down, and in particular for failing to prevent people from traveling to their hometowns at the end of Ramadan.
Officials are also accused of failing to invest in adequate testing and contact tracing systems.