Indonesia’s capital running out of space for COVID-19 dead

Special Indonesia’s capital running out of space for COVID-19 dead
Government workers wearing protective suits carry a mock-up of a coffin of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victim as others carry signs displaying information about the number of COVID-19 cases on a main road to warn people about the dangers of the disease as the outbreak continues in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 28, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 September 2020

Indonesia’s capital running out of space for COVID-19 dead

Indonesia’s capital running out of space for COVID-19 dead
  • Infections rising due to eased social restrictions

JAKARTA: A cemetery in Indonesia’s coronavirus-stricken capital could soon run out of land allocated for COVID-19 graves due to a rise in the number of burials taking place in recent weeks.  

A leader of one of the four gravedigging teams in East Jakarta's Pondok Ranggon cemetery said that management had assigned another plot – the last one available in the graveyard – for roughly 1,000 graves. Gravediggers are currently working on the fifth plot of land for COVID-19 victims since they began burying bodies in line with coronavirus health protocols in early March.

“We could run out of graves in the last plot within a month,” Imang Maulana told Arab News. “The current plot can accommodate up to 700 graves, but we buried almost 400 bodies in the past two weeks with the most recent spike on Saturday, Sept. 5, when we buried 37 bodies in a day. Before that, the highest number of bodies we buried was 36 on Aug. 31. I thought that was the record number of burials we had, but the record was broken on Saturday.”

The Pondok Ranggon cemetery is one of the city’s two public cemeteries with assigned plots to bury those who have died from or are suspected to have contracted the virus. The other one is Tegal Alur cemetery in West Jakarta.

Data from Jakarta’s COVID-19 website showed that from Aug. 23 to Sept. 4 there were 598 coronavirus burials in the city, with 60 on Sept. 2, the highest since the 54 reported on April 8.

Maulana and his team of 22 gravediggers are some of the firsthand witnesses to the city’s outbreak.

Jakarta remains the center of Indonesia’s outbreak, with more than 10,000 active cases to date, out of a total of 46,333 confirmed cases with 1,176 new infections reported on Sunday and a total of 1,277 deaths.

Maulana recalled the early days of the pandemic when the gravediggers had to carry out burials with the new protocols in March, wearing no protective gear except a face mask. “We were afraid as we did not know anything about the health protocol but, in the following week we finally understood the new procedures, and we were equipped with personal protective gear.”

He said there were few bodies to bury after the announcement of the first two confirmed coronavirus cases on March 2, but that burials increased sharply in the following weeks. The workload decreased and has remained consistent since May.

At that time, Jakarta was in the first month of imposing large-scale social restrictions that began on April 10.

He said there were days when they carried out fewer than 10 coronavirus burials until it spiked again recently after Jakarta, as well as other coronavirus-hit regions in Indonesia, loosened social restrictions to revive the battered economy.  

Maulana said the teams were working almost around the clock nowadays to bury the bodies, with each group taking turns to handle regular and COVID-19 burials.

“There were days when we had to bury a body first thing in the morning at 6.30 a.m. or when we thought the day was over and I was already home and cleaned up being with my family, but then duty called at almost midnight to bury a body with the COVID-19 protocol,” he added.

Indonesia reported 3,444 new cases on Sunday, adding to the national caseload of 194,109 with 8,025 deaths in a population of 267 million people.