COVID-19 infections imperil Indonesia’s vaccinated health workers and hospitals

COVID-19 infections imperil Indonesia’s vaccinated health workers and hospitals
A doctor prepares to give the Sinovac Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a makeshift mass vaccination clinic on a football field in Surabaya. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2021

COVID-19 infections imperil Indonesia’s vaccinated health workers and hospitals

COVID-19 infections imperil Indonesia’s vaccinated health workers and hospitals
  • Lia Partakusuma, secretary general of the IHA, said she had surveyed big state-run hospitals across Java’s major cities

JAKARTA: Indonesian pulmonologist Erlina Burhan is exasperated after another long shift in a jam-packed hospital missing 200 staff infected by the coronavirus despite being vaccinated just months ago.
“It’s crazy, really crazy,” she tells Reuters. “More patients but less staff. This is ridiculous.”
About 95 percent health workers have been fully vaccinated, overwhelmingly with China’s Sinovac, said the Indonesian Hospitals Association (IHA).
But, according to independent data group Lapor COVID-19, 131 health care workers, mostly vaccinated with the Sinovac shot, have died since June, including 50 in July.
An Indonesian health ministry spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amid the surge in infections, some medical professionals are now questioning the efficacy of the vaccine though the Indonesian government says the problem lies with the Delta coronavirus variant not the vaccine.
Most infected health workers exhibit only mild symptoms but a survey by Reuters of doctors, hospital directors and health industry chiefs indicates that thousands have been forced to isolate across Java island, home to about 150 million people and the epicenter of Indonesia’s worsening outbreak.
Lia Partakusuma, secretary general of the IHA, said she had surveyed big state-run hospitals across Java’s major cities.
“They say 10 percent of their staff are positive for COVID,” she said.
Those staff should isolate for two weeks, she added, although other medical professionals said many were sequestered for as little as five days because they were so badly needed at work.
The surge in deaths and infections of health workers could not happen at a worse time, say doctors and hospital executives.
A fourfold increase in official figures for coronavirus cases in the past month to more than 31,000 per day means the numbers needing hospitalization have gone up by “three to five times,” according to the IHA.
Epidemiologists say that low testing rates mean official COVID-19 data does not truly reflect the extent of the outbreak.
Patients hooked up to intravenous drips in car parks, others lying comatose in makeshift beds in corridors, the frantic search for oxygen amid shortages — all now commonplace in hospitals across Java, doctors and hospital directors say.
Many hospitals are either nearly full or over-capacity, hospital directors and the IHA say.
Public health experts fear the situation will deteriorate and warn that Indonesia could be “the next India,” where COVID cases skyrocketed and the health system was swamped in April and May.
But Indonesia is less prepared than India to handle such a crisis. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says Indonesia has 0.4 doctors per 1,000 people, the fifth lowest in the Asia-Pacific, and less than half that of India.
Struggling with the staff shortages, hospitals are recruiting “volunteers” — pharmacists, radiographers and medical students paid modest amounts.
An executive of a hospital chain, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said caring for COVID-19 patients often required skills that could not be provided by students or other volunteers.
“It’s not really a solution,” the executive said.
The government has imposed tough social restrictions on the islands of Java and Bali, while the health minister has promised nearly 8,000 more hospital beds.
But doctors ask what good more beds will do without the staff.
“The problem is manpower. Even if we can add space, who can take care of them?” said neurologist Eka Julianta Wahjoepramono.
“Nobody. That’s the problem.”
Indonesia has relied heavily on China’s Sinovac vaccine because it was the only pharmaceutical company to quickly sell it large numbers of doses.
It vaccinated most health workers in February and March, making them an important global test case for the efficacy of the vaccine.
At first the Sinovac inoculation program significantly reduced deaths from COVID-19. In January, 158 doctors died from the respiratory disease but by May the number dropped to 13.
Since June, at least 30 doctors have perished, according to the Indonesian Medical Association.
Eka, who was fully vaccinated with Sinovac, ended up in hospital with a severe case of COVID-19 last month.
“Many of my colleagues did not have significant antibodies increase after Sinovac,” he said, meaning they did not have high levels of protection against infections.
Sinovac did not respond to requests for comment but last month, Sinovac spokesman Liu Peicheng told Reuters preliminary results showed the vaccine produced a three-fold reduction in neutralizing effect against the Delta variant.
He said a booster shot could quickly elicit stronger and more durable antibody reaction. He did not provide detailed data.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin has defended the Sinovac vaccine. “The issue that we are facing is not about the different efficacy between vaccines, it is primarily because of the Delta variant.”
The Medical Association has urged the government to give health workers a third dose of the vaccine, and quickly.
Some doctors are flying to the United States to get inoculated with other vaccines. For most though, such a trip is too expensive, said Dr. Berlian Idriansyah Idris.
“We cannot isolate ourselves and work from home, for God’s sake. Not now,” he said.
“A third shot will give us the protection we need.”


COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney
Updated 49 min 1 sec ago

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney
  • Victoria’s 5 million residents will be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen
  • Highly infectious Delta variant took hold in the New South Wales capital of Sydney

CANBERRA/SYDNEY: Australia’s Victoria state said on Tuesday it will end lockdown after curtailing the spread of COVID-19, but neighboring New South Wales faced a four-week extension of restrictions according to media reports after new cases hit a 16-month peak.
More than half of Australia’s near 26 million population has been in lockdown in recent weeks after an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant took hold in the New South Wales capital of Sydney and spread to three states.
New South Wales reported 172 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, up from 145 a day earlier, with at least 60 spending time in the community while infectious.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a decision whether to lift the five-week lockdown will be taken this week, and local media later reported the state would announce a four-week extension of the order on Wednesday. With less than 13 percent of the state’s population fully vaccinated, curbs are expected to stay.
“We know we’ve put in the hard yards for five weeks and we don’t want to waste all the good work that we’ve done by opening too early and then having the virus spread again,” Berejiklian told a media conference.
A spokesperson was not immediately available to confirm the media reports about the planned lockdown extension.
In contrast, Victoria state said most restrictions imposed on July 15 will be removed from Wednesday after recording just 10 infections of people already in quarantine.
“All in all, this is a good day,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Victoria’s 5 million residents will be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen, though households will not be permitted to have visitors.
South Australia said it will also lift a lockdown on Wednesday after it recorded zero COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours.
Lockdowns have raised the prospect of Australia recording its second recession in as many years, though Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday talk of this was premature.
Frydenberg said last week the country’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy is expected to shrink in the latest GDP figures, with lockdowns costing about A$300 million daily.
Easing lockdowns will soften the economic toll, but New South Wales is Australia’s biggest state economy and accounts for about a third of national output.
Swift contact tracing, tough social distancing rules and lockdowns have helped Australia to keep its COVID-19 numbers low, with just under 33,100 cases and 920 deaths since the pandemic first appeared in early 2020.
The outbreak in Sydney, however, has seen a wave of hospitalizations and 10 deaths in recent weeks.
New South Wales said 169 people are in hospital with the virus, of which 46 are in intensive care.
Amid heightened concerns about hospitalizations of younger people, Australia has urged people to take AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after struggling to secure enough supplies of Pfizer’s inoculations.
Authorities had previously recommended only over 60s should take the AstraZeneca shot after rare but serious blood clotting cases.


Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases
Updated 27 July 2021

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases
  • The rise in cases threatens to further erode support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
  • It also spells trouble for the Olympics, as many Japanese fear the influx of athletes and officials for the event could add to the surge
TOKYO: Tokyo’s 2,848 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday were the Olympic host city’s highest since the pandemic began, officials said, as media reported that authorities had asked hospitals to prepare more beds for patients as the Delta variant drives the surge.
The rise in cases threatens to further erode support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose ratings have slid to their lowest level since he took office last September, in large part because of his haphazard handling of the pandemic.
It also spells trouble for the Olympics, as many Japanese fear the influx of athletes and officials for the event could add to the surge. About 31 percent in a survey by the Nikkei daily on Monday said the Games should be canceled or postponed again.
“It’s the Delta variant,” said Kenji Shibuya, a former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, explaining the swift recent surge.
Shibuya added it was impossible to quantify to what extent the Olympics contributed to the surge but blamed the global sports showpiece as “one of the major driving forces.”
“The government has sent signals that people are supposed to stay home at the same time they celebrate the Games. It’s a totally inconsistent message,” said Shibuya, who is now running the vaccine roll-out in a town in northern Japan.
Japan has avoided the devastating outbreaks suffered by other nations such as India, Indonesia and the United States, but the fifth wave of the pandemic fueled by the Delta variant is piling pressure on Tokyo’s hospitals.
By Sunday, only 20.8 percent of the Japanese capital’s 12,635 COVID-19 patients had been able to obtain hospital treatment, government data showed. A government advisory panel says that if the ratio falls below the threshold of 25 percent, a state of emergency should be triggered.
In anticipation of the surge and considering the tough hospital situation, Tokyo has already declared a fourth state of emergency this month to run until after the Olympics.
In a last-minute change of heart, Japan also made the unprecedented decision to hold the Games, postponed from last year by the pandemic, without spectators to stem the spread of the virus.
As hospitals admit more patients, the city aims to boost the number of beds to 6,406 by early next month from 5,967 now, broadcaster TBS said.
Hospitals should look at pushing back planned surgery and scaling down other treatments, the broadcaster said, citing a notice to medical institutions from city authorities.
Health experts had warned that seasonal factors, increased mobility, and the spread of variants would lead to a rebound in COVID-19 cases this summer.
While vaccinations boost protection for the oldest citizens most likely to need emergency care, just 36 percent of the population has received at least one dose, a Reuters vaccination tracker shows.
The inoculation push has recently ebbed amid logistical snags after having picked up steam last month from a sluggish start.
Voter support for Suga slid nine points to 34 percent, its lowest since he took office last September, a July 23-25 Nikkei business daily survey showed on Monday.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said the country’s rollout of coronavirus vaccinations was not going well.
Suga’s term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president expires in September and his LDP-led coalition faces an election for parliament’s powerful lower house, which must be held by November.
About a third in the Nikkei survey wanted the Games postponed again or canceled, while more than half said Japan’s border steps for incoming Olympics athletes and officials were “inappropriate.”
Despite tight quarantine rules for the Games, 155 cases have emerged involving athletes and others.
A strict “playbook” of rules to avoid contagion requires frequent virus testing, restricted movement and masks worn in most situations.

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site
Updated 57 min 51 sec ago

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site
  • Police in nearby Cologne said they did not have any information on the cause or size of the explosion

BERLIN:  Five people were missing and several injured after an explosion rocked an industrial park in the western German city of Leverkusen on Tuesday, sending up plumes of smoke and prompting police to ask nearby residents to remain in their homes.
The explosion happened at 9.40 a.m. local time (0740 GMT), causing a fire at a fuel depot at Chempark, an industrial park for chemicals companies including Bayer and Lanxess , Chempark operator Currenta said.
Several staff were hurt, with at least two seriously injured, and five people were missing, Currenta said, adding it was not yet clear what caused the explosion and the subsequent fire.
Sirens and emergency alerts on the German civil protection agency's mobile phone app warned citizens of "extreme danger".
Police asked nearby residents to remain indoors and keep doors and windows closed. Currenta said they should also turn off air conditioning systems while it measured the air around the site for possible toxic gas.
Several nearby motorways were closed, and police said drivers should take detours to avoid the area.
More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, including Covestro, Bayer, Lanxess and Arlanxeo, according to its website.
Bayer and Lanxess in 2019 sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets for an enterprise value of 3.5 billion euros ($4.12 billion).


US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China
Updated 27 July 2021

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China
  • A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States

SINGAPORE: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday he was committed to having a constructive relationship with China and working on common challenges as he laid out his vision for ties with Beijing, which have sunk to their lowest point in decades.
The United States has put countering China at the heart of its national security policy for years and President Joe Biden’s administration has called rivalry with Beijing “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century.
While Austin’s speech in Singapore will touch on the usual list of behavior Washington describes as destabilizing, from Taiwan to the South China Sea, his comments about seeking a stable relationship could provide an opening for the two countries to start to reduce tension.
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened. Yet we do not seek confrontation,” Austin said, according to excerpts of his speech.
“I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.”
Austin has been unable to speak with any senior Chinese official despite repeated attempts since starting as defense secretary in January.
Even with the tension and heated rhetoric, US military officials have long sought to keep open lines of communication with their Chinese counterparts, to be able to mitigate potential flare-ups or tackle any accidents.
A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States, accusing it of creating an “imaginary enemy” to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-ranked US diplomat, had arrived on Sunday for the face-to-face meetings in China’s northern city of Tianjin.
“Big powers need to model transparency and communication,” Austin said.
Austin’s speech, which was postponed by a month because of Singapore’s COVID-19 outbreak, is being closely watched by regional nations concerned about China’s increasingly assertive behavior but heavily reliant on access to its large markets.
He is set to visit Vietnam and the Philippines later this week to emphasize the importance of alliances.


NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
Updated 27 July 2021

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
  • Country faces a ‘deeply challenging’ security situation as foreign troops leave

BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday reiterated calls for a “negotiated settlement” with the Taliban in Afghanistan, admitting the country faced a “deeply challenging” security situation as foreign troops leave.
“The security situation in Afghanistan remains deeply challenging, and requires a negotiated settlement. NATO will continue to support Afghanistan, including with funding; civilian presence; and out-of-country training,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter after speaking to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.