JAKARTA: Authorities in Indonesia are doing all they can to meet surging demand for medical oxygen, a minister said on Thursday. The country is battling a devastating COVID-19 outbreak amid record increases in the number of infections.
Indonesia has become Asia’s new coronavirus hot spot. The country reported more than 56,750 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearly seven times as many as the daily figure just a month ago. The total number of confirmed infections in the country now stands at more than 2.7 million.
More than 70,190 people have died of conditions related to the disease, and the official daily death toll in the nation of 276 million people has been close to or higher than 1,000 since last week.
The outbreak, blamed on the highly contagious Delta variant of virus, is mainly affecting the islands of Java and Bali, despite emergency restrictions imposed early this month. There are increasingly common reports of people dying at home because they were turned away by overwhelmed hospitals, and of long queues of people waiting to have oxygen tanks refilled.
Chief Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who is leading the emergency response in Java and Bali, said the government is making every effort to ensure health facilities have adequate supplies of oxygen.
“We have re-allocated all oxygen production for hospitals, from previously 80 percent allocated for hospitals and 20 percent for industry,” he said. “We never thought we would face such conditions."
He added that Indonesia is also facing a shortage of oxygen concentrators and is seeking help help from the UAE, China, and neighboring Singapore.
“We have placed orders (to buy) 40,000 oxygen concentrators,” Pandjaitan said. “We have received international assistance, including from the UAE.”
The government is also converting additional buildings to serve as emergency isolation wards, and will deploy newly graduated doctors and 20,000 nursing students to staff field hospitals, he added.
With health facilities overwhelmed, online demand for oxygen canisters is surging. Internet searches for “tabung oksigen” (oxygen tank) have risen sharply since the beginning of July, especially in East Java province.
“In Java and Bali, the use of ‘oxygen tank’ keywords rose by 56 percent from July 3 to July 10,” Rizki Ardinanta, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Development at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, told Arab News. “The most significant rise was in East Java, where the use of the words on Google Trends rose by 66 percent.”
Media Wahyudi Askar, another researcher at the institute, said there is a clear connection between the increase in online searches for oxygen tanks and the rising numbers of COVID-19 deaths.