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How Indonesia became Asia’s new COVID-19 epicenter

As outbreaks surge, a new study found that nearly half of the people living in the capital city may have already contracted coronavirus

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A medical worker gives a shot of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to a student.

A medical worker gives a shot of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to a student during a vaccination campaign for children between 12 and 17 years of age at a school in Tangerang, Indonesia, Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Tatan Syuflana, Associated Press

Last month, Indonesia was considered a COVID-19 “time bomb,” reported the Deseret News. Now, outbreaks have exploded in the world’s fourth most populous country.

  • Indonesia has surpassed India to become the new coronavirus epicenter in Southeast Asia, reported Bloomberg.
  • Wednesday, Indonesia recorded a record peak of more than 54,000 new cases in a single day — far surpassing India which recorded less than 39,000 new cases the same day, reported U.S. News.

The island archipelago country is struggling to contain transmission as the highly contagious delta variant is beginning to appear in more regions, reported Reuters.

What are Indonesia’s COVID-19 outbreaks like?

For the last three days, Indonesia has recorded more than 40,000 new COVID-19 cases per day and over 900 new deaths, reported Bloomberg. One month ago, the country was recording less than 10,000 new cases per day.

  • So far, the outbreak has been centered on the island of Java which is home to Jakarta, the capital and largest city, per Reuters.
  • The hospital system is being pushed to the brink, reported the Deseret News.

A recent study found that almost half — about 44.5% — of Jakarta’s population may have contracted COVID-19, reported CNN. Researchers estimate that about 4.7 million people out of Jakarta’s 10.6 million population have contracted the virus. This is more than 12 times the official number of cases recorded by the health ministry.

  • Experts widely believe that Indonesia is still undercounting cases due to the country’s lack of testing infrastructure, per Bloomberg.
  • Indonesia’s positive test rate is 31%, indicating that only serious cases are being tested, leaving high levels of community transmission potentially undetected, reported Bloomberg.

The delta variant has largely driven the recent surge in infections and has been identified in 11 regions outside of Java, reported Bloomberg. This includes islands nearby Java and farther away with the latter being most concerning to officials.

  • “We must monitor this tightly, because if there’s something happening there, their health capacities are below Jakarta or Java,” said health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin, per Bloomberg.

Why did cases in Indonesia spike?

Indonesia’s spike in cases has come from the highly contagious delta variant combined with low vaccination rates and inadequate prevention measures, reported the Deseret News.

  • “The outbreak in Indonesia underscores the consequences of an unequal global distribution of vaccines,” according to Bloomberg.
  • The country has fully vaccinated just 5.5% of the population, primarily using the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, CNN reported.

When will the outbreak peak?

Experts expect cases to continue to rise in Indonesia, per Reuters.

  • “I predict the outbreak will increase continuously in July as we are not able yet to prevent the spread of infections,” said Pandu Riono of the University of Indonesia, per U.S. News.
  • “Emergency social restrictions are still inadequate,” he said.

Some have begun to fear that Indonesia could become the next India with similarly devastating outbreaks, said Reuters.