Monday, September 20, 2021

Rising death toll prompts Indonesia to extend Covid curbs by a week

Experts are concerned that the situation in Indonesia is ripe for the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant.

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Indonesia has extended its Covid-19 restrictions by a week to Aug 2 to try to curb infections, President Joko Widodo announced on Sunday.

The country is now Asia’s Covid-19 epicentre with hospitals swamped, particularly on the densely populated island of Java and on Bali, where oxygen supplies are running thin.

“I’d like to thank all Indonesians for their understanding and support for the curbs that have been effective for 23 days,” the president, known as Jokowi, said, adding that Covid infections and hospital bed occupancies had declined, without specifying by how much.

He said the government would gradually adjust restrictions on “some activities”, while allowing traditional markets and restaurants with outdoor areas to open, with some limitations. Some businesses, from salons and laundries to vehicle repair shops, are now allowed to open.

The average number of Covid-19 deaths reported each day has been increasing for 10 days straight, a Reuters tracker shows.

The country last reported 1,566 deaths on Friday, bringing cumulative deaths to more than 83,000.

Total infections have climbed to more than three million, though health experts say that both deaths and case numbers have been undercounted.

Senior Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who oversees the Covid response on Java and Bali, said on Saturday that “deaths have risen due to a number of factors: full hospitals, patients admitted with low saturation, or dying unmonitored in self-isolation”, adding that ICUs would be added in areas which have reported the highest number of deaths.

Less than 7% of Indonesia’s population of 270 million has been fully vaccinated, with Southeast Asia’s largest country primarily reliant on shots produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

Representatives of two of the world’s leading coronavirus research groups in the US have expressed concerns that the situation in Indonesia is ripe for the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant.

“The more infections in a community, the more a chance for a new variant,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.

He also expressed concern about the Eid al-Adha festival and the “activity around it”.

Indonesia’s Covid-19 task force banned public travel nationwide for the festival week and deployed thousands of security personnel around the country to enforce the travel ban, after a similar order at Eid al-Fitr in May did little to stop people from travelling.

Other Asian countries are seeing some of their worst outbreaks to date, as Vietnam and Thailand face new anti-virus rules.

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