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Indonesia Leads Southeast Asia In COVID-19 Cases And Deaths


Indonesia's president just announced some new measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus there. Indonesia is leading Southeast Asia in both infections and deaths. Here's Michael Sullivan.


PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO: (Non-English language spoken).

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: President Joko Widodo says the new measures mean shopping malls, schools and mosques are all closed for the next two weeks. In-restaurant dining is also banned, and nonessential employees are to work from home. But the new restrictions only apply to parts of the main island Java and the resort island of Bali. And critics say they fall far short of what's needed.

PANDU RIONO: I think it's like, you know, cosmetic policy, you know? Not the most strongest that can stop the transmission.

SULLIVAN: Epidemiologist Pandu Riono of the University of Indonesia says that's especially true now that the highly contagious delta variant has arrived as well.

RIONO: They say, OK, don't panic, don't panic, be calm, be calm, you know? Everybody is already panicked.

SULLIVAN: With reason. Indonesia has reported new daily records for weeks now. Yesterday it recorded the highest number of deaths since the pandemic began - over 550 - and more than 27,000 new infections. Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman has advised previous Indonesian governments.

DICKY BUDIMAN: Currently, almost all hospital in Java island already have 98% bed occupancy, and some of them already closed the hospital to receive - or in receiving the COVID-19 patients.

SULLIVAN: Public health expert and COVID data analyst Irma Hidayana also helps patients find beds. On Tuesday, she worked to find one for a man whose oxygen levels were plummeting. She tried several hospitals in the capital Jakarta with no luck, and she says the nurse at the last one was blunt.

IRMA HIDAYANA: You need to know that we have no wheelchair, we have no bed, and we have no oxygen.

SULLIVAN: It's the same, Irma Hidayana says, almost everywhere.

HIDAYANA: June 14 till June 30, we lost 11 people. They died before they got medical help from the hospital.

SULLIVAN: Dicky Budiman warns it's going to get much, much worse in the next month. The new restriction's too little, too late, especially when they apply to just over half the population.

BUDIMAN: So at least end of July until mid of August, we still have around 300- to 500,000 cases a day, and the death case will be around 2,000 to 3,000 a day.

SULLIVAN: A half a million cases a day, he says, in a country where the health system has all but collapsed, with a government, critics say, that's still prioritizing the economy over the health of its people, one that's recently lost dozens of doctors and nurses to COVID, even after they were fully vaccinated with the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.

BUDIMAN: Not OK. And this is worrying me because then we have an issue about the effectiveness of Sinovac in the real world against delta variant. So that's a very high concern.

SULLIVAN: A delta variant that now has the Indonesian government scrambling, with testing, contact tracing and vaccinations limited. And without a total lockdown, many experts now worry Indonesia could become the next India.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "DOUBLE SPACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.