Indonesia has surpassed the daily infection tally of badly hit India to become the “epicentre” of Asia’s COVID-19 outbreak.
The country is now fighting a “worst-case scenario”, a senior minister said, adding the government was preparing for a further spike in cases as the Delta variant spreads.
The world’s fourth most populous country is struggling to slow COVID-19 transmission even after imposing its toughest mobility curbs yet, while its immunisation rate is low, with just 5.8 per cent of its 270 million people fully vaccinated.
Indonesia recorded 56,757 new cases on Thursday, surpassing the daily infections tally of India, which at its peak in May saw more than 400,000 daily cases.
“It’s very fair to say that Indonesia is the epicentre of Asia,” said Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Griffith University.
Senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan said daily cases could still climb as the Delta variant, first identified in India, has a two- to three- week incubation period.
“We’re already in our worst-case scenario,” Mr Luhut said.
“If we’re talking about 60,000 (daily cases) or slightly more than that, we’re OK. We are hoping not for 100,000, but even if we get there, we are preparing for that,” he said.
The government has converted buildings into isolation facilities, deployed fresh graduate doctors and nurses to treat COVID-19 patients and imported oxygen and drugs, he said.
Indonesia’s food and drug agency (BPOM) has authorised the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin for emergency use against COVID-19, a health ministry official told Reuters.
While the World Health Organisation has recommended it not be used for COVID-19 patients, it has been used in some countries to treat the respiratory disease, including India.
BPOM also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine on Thursday, of which Indonesia will receive 50 million doses.
Hospitals in the densely populated Java island have been deluged in recent weeks, with many struggling to get treatment and hundreds dying in self-isolation.
Cases and bed occupancy rates have also risen in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan and more remote regions like West Papua, where health facilities are less equipped to handle an outbreak.
Mr Luhut also said vaccine efficacy was weaker against the Delta variant spreading fast across Java, but urged people to get inoculated to help prevent serious illness and death.
The government was analysing the situation and would decide whether to extend the restrictions beyond July 20, he said.