When Suharyanto’s pregnant wife, Rina Ismawati, and two of their three children fell Sick last month, he first thought it was a simple cold. But with the increase in Covid-19 cases in Indonesia, he took them to get tested.
The whole family has tested positive for Covid-19, including Suharyanto – and Ismawati, 43, was admitted to hospital, where she was lying in bed, occasionally texting Suharyanto via WhatsApp. “She told me her condition was getting worse,” Suharyanto said. “She couldn’t breathe. “
On June 22, Riski died in hospital. Suharyanto had never seen him except in a photo. The next day, Ismawati also died.
For weeks, Indonesia, home to around 270 million people, has reported thousands of daily cases and hundreds of deaths as the highly contagious Delta variant ravages the country. Social media is inundated with posts from users who have lost loved ones to the virus. Hospitals are dangerously short of supplies, excavators are frantically digging cemeteries and isolation remains impossible for millions of people like Suharyanto who live on a daily salary. The country also faces the additional challenge of widespread and widespread disinformation and an immunization rate of less than 6%.
With more than 2.7 million people infected and more than 70,000 dead, onlookers warn the country may not have reached its peak.
How did it happen
For much of the past year, Indonesia has managed to keep its Covid-19 epidemic largely under control. Then, as cases rose in June, crushing hospitals, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned that Indonesia was “on the brink of a Covid-19 disaster”.
The country has seen a “dramatic increase in confirmed cases” after the holidays, Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said earlier this month. He attributed the explosion of cases to the fast-spreading Delta variant, which was first identified in India and has since spread to nearly 100 countries.
Indonesia went into lockdown on July 10, when the country was reporting more than 30,000 new cases every day. The government has said it is “mobilizing all resources” to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, including bringing in oxygen from other countries to increase supplies.
But experts say Indonesia is now bearing the cost of not locking in early enough.
And the current numbers probably don’t reflect the whole picture. More than 27% of tests are positive, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, giving Indonesia one of the highest test positivity rates in the world. The figures suggest that many cases still go undetected.
A survey released last Saturday showed that nearly half of Jakarta’s residents may have contracted Covid-19 – more than 12 times the number of officially recorded cases in the Indonesian capital at the time the research was conducted.
“Without proper testing, many provinces are unable to isolate confirmed cases in time,” the World Health Organization said in its latest status report.
Just a simple cold
Another major obstacle to controlling the epidemic in Indonesia is the flood of disinformation.
For months, WhatsApp messages spread fake news about ineffective treatments for Covid-19. Vaccine hoaxes have been circulating on social media, preventing some people from getting vaccinated for fear it could cause serious illness or death. And because of misinformation, many people in Indonesia still do not take Covid-19 seriously, even as cases are increasing around them.
Amid all the noise, warnings about the severity of Covid-19 are fading away.
A few weeks ago, Karunia Sekar Kinanti, 32, noticed that her two-month-old son, Zhafran, had a fever, but assumed it was just a common cold.
To her mom had the flu and cough, but Kinanti didn’t think it was Covid because her mom still smelled. “Her symptoms didn’t appear to be Covid-19, so I was calm to respond to them,” she said. “Then Zhafran, me and my other child also got sick. “
Two weeks ago, as he got weaker and his breathing became more labored, she took Zhafran to hospital, where scans showed Covid-19 had already damaged his right lung.
She remembers the doctor telling her to prepare for the worst. “You can be optimistic, but it all depends on God,” she recalls, saying.
On July 5, Kinanti’s mother passed away. Kinanti still does not know if her mother had Covid because she has not been tested. Kinanti did not go to her funeral – she was in the hospital with her young son.
Aman B. Pulungan, president of the Indonesian Pediatric Society, said it is common for parents to assume their child does not have Covid-19, in part because many people in Indonesia do not know that children can be infected.
Families do little to protect children from the virus, and even when infected, parents often think it is a cold. Schools were closed last year and were closed again as part of this latest lockdown, but Indonesian children are currently on summer vacation.
“We are not protecting our children. That’s the problem, ”he said.
The larger problem is lingering skepticism about Covid-19, according to an article published last month by Yatun Sastramidjaja, associate researcher in the regional social and cultural studies program at the Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, and Amirul Adli Rosli , researcher at the same institute.
“A more extreme type of comment has circulated on social media, questioning the legitimacy of the government’s response to the pandemic and even dismissing any official information on Covid-19,” they wrote.
When Kinanti and her baby Zhafran arrived at the hospital, all the beds in the intensive care unit were already full.
A front desk agent took pity on Zhafran and helped them get a room, and the next day they were moved to an isolation room with other children infected with Covid-19. Zhafran was the youngest of them all, she said.
When Kinanti spoke to CNN earlier this month, she said there were nine children in the hospital room with them and many more were waiting for a bed.
The Indonesian crisis is now playing out much the same as India’s Second Wave, with a shortage of oxygen tanks and patients moving from hospital to hospital trying to find help. Sudirman Said, general secretary of the Indonesian Red Cross, said patients traveled for hours to access life-saving medical care.
“Sick patients are only waiting for more deaths so that they can even have a chance to make it inside a hospital,” Project HOPE executive director for Indonesia, Edhie Rahmat, said in a statement to the hospital. earlier this month, adding that many hospitals have built patient care tents outside buildings. “The peak of the second wave of Covid-19 in Indonesia has not yet been reached. “
The epidemic and the shortage of hospital beds make people with underlying conditions even more vulnerable. According to Pulungan of the Indonesian Pediatric Society, many children dying from Covid-19 have underlying health issues.
This was the case for Baswara Catra Wijaya, Tantien Hermawati’s baby, born with heart disease.
She believes he may have been infected with Covid-19 when he was in hospital in November last year to undergo surgery for his condition. After catching Covid-19, she could barely look at her baby’s face – it was obvious he was in pain.
He passed away on December 11, 2020, even before he was four months old. Hermawati thinks she was lucky – at least she was able to attend his funeral.
She advises other parents to be more careful and cautious than she was and to stay home to avoid exposing children to Covid.
“It’s really sad if our children are infected – our babies can’t tell us which part of their body is injured, and neither do we. So please stay home and follow health protocol. “
Indonesia’s main hope for dealing with the worsening crisis lies in vaccines, the country’s President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday.
“Fair and equal access to vaccines must be guaranteed as we see that there is still a large gap in access to vaccines across the country,” he said, according to Antara News.
Earlier this month, the White House announced it would send 3 million doses of Moderna vaccine to support Indonesia against the wave. Tuesday more than 3 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine has arrived in Indonesia via the global COVAX program, the eighth such shipment to arrive in the country. Indonesia has received more than 14 million vaccines through the program, according to state media.
But for the millions already affected by Covid, these vaccines will arrive too late.
For Kinanti and her baby Zhafran, the situation is improving. His doctor is more optimistic about his survival, but warns that Zhafran may still have reduced lung capacity.
She says she underestimated the Covid, and thought it was impossible that it could affect her child: “I was late when I got to the hospital, and I really regret it. “
Suharyanto, a father of three, lives with the guilt of not knowing if he brought Covid-19 into their home. He works as a motorcycle taxi driver in the town of Semarang, in the central Java province; he always came and went, but his wife stayed at home.
“The children are already continuing normally. But I still cry on my own. I regret things but I never imagined it could happen, ”he said. “I still can’t believe she left so quickly. “
Suharyanto wants people to understand that Covid isn’t fake news or a conspiracy – to him, it’s painfully real.
“They have never seen their family die from Covid,” he said.