JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is shifting medical emergency units in Jakarta to tents outside hospitals to create more room for COVID-19 beds, the health minister said, as authorities scramble to boost hospital capacity amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
The world’s fourth most populous nation reported that overall coronavirus cases topped 2 million this week, while Thursday’s 20,574 rise in infections was the biggest since the start of the pandemic.
The virus surge has piled pressure on a fragile healthcare system, with hospitals in some cities nearing full capacity, while hundreds of healthcare workers have tested positive for the respiratory disease and at least 10 who were fully vaccinated have died.
“How long this pandemic is going to be around comes down to all of us,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a streamed briefing on Friday.
In the capital Jakarta, the isolation bed occupancy rate hit 90% on Wednesday, while the ICU (intensive care unit) rate was at 86%, according to Governor Anies Baswedan.
Three hospitals in Jakarta are being converted to exclusively handle COVID-19 patients, while two isolation centres were being set up to house an additional 7,000 beds, the health minister said.
Allaying fears over possible oxygen shortages for patients, he said supplies were sufficient and the state electricity company had been instructed to ensure that power at oxygen plants remained on after a recent outage in Central Java.
As more cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant are detected across the archipelago, and with low testing and minimal contact tracing, public health experts have warned that Indonesia could be a risk of suffering the sort of explosion in cases that India recently saw.
The number of coronavirus deaths has been rising again and on Tuesday the 143 COVID-19 burials in Jakarta was the highest daily number, according to the city’s parks department.
Earlier this week, the government introduced tighter restrictions in designated red zone areas, cutting office capacity and opening hours of restaurants or malls.
But so far President Joko Widodo has resisted calls from health experts for full lockdowns and said on Wednesday current restrictions were the best option because they could be implemented without “killing” the economy.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Kate Lamb and Ed Davies)