As Indonesian capital heads into lockdown, doctors warn of buckling health system


Doctors in Indonesia's capital warned on Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic is "not under control" with Jakarta intensive care units nearing full capacity and the city ordering new lockdown measures to stem a spike in infections.

Jakarta has recorded more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases on average each day this month, with the rising caseload placing considerable strain on hospitals in the world's fourth most populous nation.

The occupancy rate of isolation rooms at 67 coronavirus referral hospitals is currently at 77%, while the ICU occupancy is 83%, according to the Jakarta administration.

"It is like we have been running a marathon since March, we are exhausted," said Erlina Burhan, a pulmonologist from Persahabatan Hospital, "This is not to be underestimated. The situation is not under control."

The number of patients being treated for suspected cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, tripled from July to August at Persahabatan, Jakarta's main referral hospital.

"The government should anticipate the rise in cases by adding more medical facilities in hospitals… but the need of the medical workers needs to be anticipated as well," said Halik Malik, spokesman for Indonesia's medical association, acknowledging that pressure on the health system was high. "Doctors are forced to work overtime, fatigued amidst the low protection," he added.

Fears that the city's healthcare system may be soon pushed to brink saw Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan on Wednesday re-impose lockdown measures starting on 14 September, with residents told to work, study and pray at home.

"Right now, this is an emergency — more pressing than the start of the pandemic," he said.

Without tighter social restrictions, hospitals may be forced to turn coronavirus patients away by as early as next week, data from the Jakarta government showed.

Indonesia has been battling the pandemic since March, drawing criticism from public health experts for prioritising economic over public health concerns.

The Southeast Asian nation has recorded more than 203,000 cases of the coronavirus and 8,336 deaths, the highest COVID-19 death toll in East Asia.

On Wednesday Baswedan told Jakartans: "Please don't go out, don't leave home and do not leave Jakarta unless necessary".

Indonesia's main stock index fell 5% to hit its lowest level since late June following the governor's announcement, triggering a 30-minute trade halt, while the central bank intervened to stabilise the rupiah exchange rate. For millions who work in the informal sector, the lockdown brings a fresh economic blow. (Reuters)

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