JAKARTA: Calls are mounting for the Indonesian government to restrict public movement again after the country saw a 500 percent rise in COVID-19 cases in one month.
The daily tally of new COVID-19 infections rose from 2,385 on May 15 to 12,624 on June 17, according to official data. The surge was expected, especially after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday when millions of people traveled between cities on Indonesia’s most populated island of Java, despite a travel ban imposed at the end of Ramadan.
Experts say the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in India and is more virulent, could have compounded the problem.
On Saturday, Indonesia reported 12,906 new infections, raising the total tally to 1,976,172 cases.
The capital city, Jakarta, registered 4,737 cases on Friday, which its governor, Anies Baswedan, described as “the highest number ever recorded during the pandemic.”
On Saturday, however, Jakarta set a new record with 4,895 new cases.
“The spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases has been occurring gradually for the past ten weeks, even though initially the surge was gradual,” Masdalina Pane, an expert on health policies and epidemiologist at the Indonesian Epidemiologists Association, told Arab News on Saturday.
“We have issued warnings since the start, but it fell on deaf ears because the rise was insignificant,” she added.
Pane alleged that the issue began after the government reduced the mandatory self-quarantine for international arrivals — and those in close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus — from 14 days to five days from earlier this year.
At the end of April, Indonesia banned arrivals from India for two weeks.
“We could have prevented the new variants from entering Indonesia by mandating 14 days quarantine for international arrivals,” she said.
“We are harvesting the results of policies that disregards the basic principles of disease control,” she added.
On Friday, medical associations issued a joint call for the central government to impose wide-scale restrictions on public activity across Java.
Doctors said that hospitals in cities on the island were running out of bed space while the health care system could collapse unless the government intervened to curb the spread of the disease.
“Don’t let us become the second India,” Erlina Burhan of the Indonesian Association of Pulmonologists (PDPI) said in a virtual press conference.
Aman Pulungan, chairman of the Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI), also called on limiting children’s outdoor activities at a time when the government is set to reopen schools for the next academic year.
“The national data on COVID-19 cases showed that 12.5 percent of the cases are children; it means that one in every eight patients is a child,” Pulungan said, adding that the association’s data showed Indonesia’s case-fatality rate on children infected with the coronavirus is up to 5 percent or “the highest in the world.”
Meanwhile, thousands of citizens have signed an online petition to President Joko Widodo urging him to step up the government’s response to the health crisis.
“We have almost 2,000 signatures so far since we distributed the letter on Friday afternoon. We want to draw the president’s attention to the surge of cases and the few availability of beds to treat COVID-19 patients and for those who need to self-isolate,” Irma Hidayana, public health consultant and founder of Lapor COVID-19 (Report COVID-19) community movement, which initiated the letter, told Arab News.