Indonesia has expanded nationwide curbs as daily covid deaths rocketed and locals turn to a “miracle cure” that health officials have warned against.
Indonesia expanded nationwide curbs to battle its deadliest Covid-19 wave yet, as the daily death toll rocketed past 1000 and the government warned the worst may be yet to come.
The world’s fourth most populous nation has reported a record 34,379 new infections and 1040 deaths – as much as 10 times the daily mortality rate less than a month ago.
Many overwhelmed hospitals are refusing new patients, leaving scores to die at home, while cemetery workers race to bury the soaring number of bodies.
Australia said it would send emergency medical equipment and about 2.5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Indonesia.
It comes as Indonesians are ignoring health warnings to stock up on a “miracle cure” for Covid-19 as the out-of-control virus surge sweeps the country.
Pharmacies across the country are running out of ivermectin, an oral treatment normally used to treat lice and other parasitic infections, thanks in part to viral social media posts touting its potential as a coronavirus treatment.
“Those who come bring a screenshot showing that ivermectin … could cure Covid,” said Yoyon, head of a pharmaceutical sales group at a market in the capital Jakarta, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
He said the shortage had pushed the price of the drug up from around 175,000 to 300,000 rupiah ($12-$21) a bottle.
“We are out of supplies at the moment after many people came to buy it,” he added.
Fuelled by anti-vaccine and pandemic conspiracy theories online, there has been a surge in demand for the drug from Brazil to South Africa to Lebanon.
But manufacturer Merck has said there was “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against Covid-19” and warned of possible safety issues if the drug is administered inappropriately.
Scientists, the World Health Organisation, and several drug regulators – including Indonesia’s own – have also stressed there is a lack of credible evidence to show it works against Covid-19.
Indonesian tycoon and government minister Erick Thohir has praised ivermectin and urged domestic production to fight the current outbreak.
A former owner of Italian football champions Inter Milan and a shareholder of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball franchise, Thohir recently suggested that state-owned drug giant Indofarma could produce up to four million ivermectin tablets a month.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has pressured regulators to approve the drug as a Covid treatment.
“There are a lot of credible people … who swear by their fathers’ grave that ivermectin is doing good to their bodies while they are suffering from Covid,” Duterte recently told the chief of the country’s drug regulator.
Meanwhile, new covid restrictions have been announced that will apply to dozens of cities and extend from Sumatra island in the west to easternmost Papua, as the highly infectious Delta variant rips across the Southeast Asian archipelago.
Offices, mosques, parks, shopping malls and restaurants have been shuttered across the hard-hit capital Jakarta and main island of Java as well as holiday hotspot Bali.
But there are widespread reports of violations including offices and shops still operating despite shutdown orders.
The wider restrictions include forcing the majority of non-essential employees to work from home, as well as limiting shop and restaurant hours.
The regions affected have much lower daily case counts than covid epicentre Java, but healthcare services in those regions are already under strain and an explosion in infections could bring them to their knees, said senior minister Airlangga Hartarto.
Experts questioned why the new restrictions were not uniformly tough across the 5100 kilometre long archipelago of nearly 270 million people.
“The virus doesn’t discriminate – it’s not less deadly outside of Bali and Java so the response should be the same,” said Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist at Airlangga University.
At a cemetery near Jakarta, staff clad in protective gear raced to bury plastic-wrapped coffins as ambulances waited in a queue to deliver the dead.
“I’m very scared about getting infected,” said Nesan Nusmana, who lives near the cemetery.
“But it can’t be helped. This is where I live. All I can do now is pray.”
Management at Kalibata City, one of Jakarta’s biggest apartment complexes, warned tenants to stay inside their units and signs were slapped on the doors of virus-infected patients isolating at home.
“I didn’t want to go to the hospital not only because they’re overwhelmed but I was also scared about being exposed to more of the virus,” said Jessica Sihotang, a 32-year-old resident recuperating from the illness.
“But I have so much anxiety watching all this scary news about people dying in self-isolation.” Indonesia’s caseload stood Wednesday at more than 2.37 million with 62,908 deaths, but those figures are widely thought to be a severe undercount due to low testing and poor tracing.
On Tuesday, the government warned it was bracing for a scenario that could see cases soar to more than 50,000 a day, as emergency oxygen supplies flowed in from neighbouring Singapore.
In the hardest-hit areas, desperate relatives have been forced to hunt for oxygen tanks to treat the sick and dying at home.
More than a dozen facilities in Indonesia’s second-biggest city Surabaya have shut-out new patients because they could no longer handle the huge influx.
The overflow, which forced hospitals to set up makeshift treatment tents in their parking lots, worsened on Wednesday as hospitals in Javanese cities Malang and Solo also hit their limit and turned away the sick.
Doctors and other medical workers are increasingly getting infected and taken out of rotation, heaping more pressure on healthcare facilities already at bursting point.
Nearly 1000 Indonesian medical workers have died of Covid-19, including more than a dozen who were already fully inoculated, according to the country’s medical association.