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Covid-19 patients receive treatment in an emergency tent at Bekasi General Hospital on July 18 in Bekasi, Indonesia. (Oscar Siagian / Getty Images)

For much of the past year, it seemed like Indonesia had been successful in keeping its Covid-19 outbreak largely under control.

Now the island nation – home to around 270 million people – has become the new epicenter of the pandemic in Asia, reporting more cases and deaths daily than hard-hit India as a devastating second wave tears the archipelago apart .

With tens of thousands of infections recorded daily, experts say the country’s health system could be pushed to the brink of disaster if the spread of the virus continues unabated.

Infections started to rise towards the end of May, after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday to mark the end of the Islamic fasting month – and have rapidly increased exponentially.

Health experts say the crisis is fueled by the spread of the more infectious Delta variant first identified in India.

“Every day, we see this Delta variant bringing Indonesia closer to the edge of a Covid-19 disaster,” said Jan Gelfand, head of the Indonesian delegation to the International Federation of Red Cross Societies at the end of June. of the Red Crescent (IFRC). .

Experts blamed the government for its slowness in failing to implement strict closures last year after cases were first reported in the country and its alleged failure to invest in effective screening and tracing systems.

As of July 20, Indonesia had recorded nearly 3 million total cases and more than 76,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But experts fear the numbers underestimate the actual spread in the country due to a lack of testing.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report released in July said inadequate testing continues to be a problem, with more than 50% of provinces reporting testing rates below the recommended benchmark.

“Without proper testing, many provinces are unable to isolate confirmed cases in time,” the report says.

Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told CNN in early July that authorities initially did not realize how quickly the virus had spread during this latest wave.

The islands of Java and Bali were placed under emergency control on July 3 along with other towns in the archipelago. Domestic travel is not limited, although it depends on a negative Covid-19 test.

On July 20, Indonesia extended the restrictions on Covid-19 until July 25.

Usually busy streets of downtown Jakarta on July 15, 2021, as the highly contagious Delta variant tears Indonesia apart

The second wave affected all age groups, experts said. However, the number of children who have died from the virus in Indonesia has quadrupled in recent weeks, according to the country’s Pediatric Society.

More than 550 children have died since the start of the pandemic – about 27% of whom have died in the first weeks of July.

Parents often mistake the symptoms for a cold and do not have children tested, according to Aman B. Pulungan, president of the Indonesian Pediatric Society.

“When they realize it’s Covid-19, the condition is already bad,” Aman said. “When they take the children to the hospital, sometimes we don’t have enough time to save the children. It happens a lot.”

Frontline workers have also been hit by the wave. In early July, more than 350 doctors and medical workers in Java contracted Covid-19 while being vaccinated with Chinese-made Sinovac. Most of the workers were asymptomatic and self-isolating at home, but dozens were hospitalized with high fevers and falling oxygen saturation levels.

Learn more about the Covid-19 crisis in Indonesia here.

CNN’s Amy Sood contributed reporting.


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