Indonesia’s COVID-19 Caseload Tops 1 Million

Tia Asmara
Indonesia’s COVID-19 Caseload Tops 1 Million Medical workers examine a COVID-19 patient at the General Hospital in Bogor, Indonesia, Jan. 25, 2021.

Updated at 6:08 p.m. ET on 2021-01-26

Indonesia surpassed the 1 million mark in the official number of coronavirus cases detected nationwide, the health ministry announced Tuesday, as hospitals in Southeast Asia’s most populous country struggled amid a surge of patients in COVID-19 hotspots. 

Indonesia recorded 13,094 new cases within the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,012,350 since the first case was detected last March, according to data from the Ministry of Health. An additional 336 deaths overnight brought the death toll to 28,468.

“These figures should force us to reflect. It means that the people must work together with the government to overcome this pandemic,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a press conference, noting that more than 600 health workers had died of the coronavirus disease.

Ramping up testing, tracing and treatment capacity was key to controlling the pandemic, he said. Observers and international health experts, however, have questioned whether the number of cases reported by Indonesian health officials reflects the actual total, which could be much higher, they said, because the country’s testing rate for COVID-19 is relatively low.

Although the government launched a vaccination campaign against the disease on Jan. 13, daily cases in Indonesia have been spiking since early January, according to data from disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The daily increases in cases have ranged from more than 8,000 on Jan. 1 to a record 14,224 on Jan. 16.

Indonesia leads all countries in East Asia in COVID-19 cases and related deaths.

Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Griffith University, warned that the situation was dire. The actual number of cases could be three times as many as have reported, he said, pointing to low levels of testing. The current rate is an average of 32,000 per 1 million people.

“Indonesia should have hit the 1 million milestone in September,” he told BenarNews.

“A silent outbreak occurs when hospitals are full and deaths spike. A quarantine intervention is urgently needed for those undetected cases. Otherwise, the pandemic will be far from being under control,” he said.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed that the true number was likely much higher.

“I think we hit one million cases of COVID-19 a long time ago,” Pandu told Agence France-Presse. “We are still climbing a mountain and we don’t even know where the peak is. This is a never-ending climb.”

Budiman urged the government to impose a strict lockdown on Java and Bali islands to prevent the situation from becoming worse.

In his view, tracing, testing and treatment were crucial.

“An explosion of cases can happen in the middle of a vaccination campaign and there’s no guarantee that vaccinations will work,” he said.

In mid-January, the government started a mass-inoculation drive using a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, with the aim of vaccinating 181 million Indonesians in 15 months. But so far, fewer than 300,000 people have received the jabs, according to data from the health ministry.  

In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani said that the archipelago nation would need 15 months to vaccinate 180 million people so as to achieve herd immunity. She cited conservative estimates by experts. Indonesia’s population is around 270 million.


Hospitals near capacity

In a case that illustrates how the surge in coronavirus cases is straining the country’s health system, a patient in Depok near Jakarta died in a taxi after being turned away by 10 hospitals because beds were full, according to LaporCovid19, a volunteer group.

Hospitals in at least 10 provinces, including Jakarta, were nearly full, with bed occupancy exceeding 70 percent, said Lia Gardenia Partakusuma, secretary general of the Indonesian Hospital Association (PERSI).

“If the number of cases continues to rise next week, hospitals may collapse and no longer be able to accept more patients,” she told BenarNews.

“It’s difficult because we can’t accept new patients, and existing patients need some time to recover.”

Some patients who should be in intensive care units were being treated in ordinary wards, she said.

“There’s been degradation in the quality of care. Emergency units are full and people are still waiting. This is contributing to the high death rate,” Lia said, adding, “Patients who need treatment for other diseases cannot be treated.”  

The Indonesian Medical Association said the healthcare system was ill-prepared for the worsening pandemic.

“As the burden continues to increase, doctors have been forced to work long hours with little protection,” Halik Malik, the association’s spokesman, told BenarNews.

“The gap in the health system between the regions and the imbalance of resources mean there are differences in medical surge capacity.”

In a situation report about the pandemic in Indonesia that was published on Jan. 20, the World Health Organization warned “there is still a wide gap between the number of people tested and suspected cases; improving testing capacity is therefore imperative.”  

Meanwhile, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that Indonesia had ordered 426 million doses of vaccines from four different companies and prepared 30,000 vaccination workers at 10,000 public clinics and 3,000 hospitals across the archipelago.

“I have requested that vaccinations be completed before the end of 2021,” he said on Monday.

Indonesia so far has only received 18 million doses of vaccine, all from Sinovac.

Jokowi, who was the first person in Indonesia to get a jab, was scheduled to receive a second shot of the vaccine on Wednesday, said Heru Budi Hartono, head of the presidential secretariat.


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