A health care worker wearing personal protective equipment looks after a Covid-19 patient with an oxygen mask in a wheelchair outside the Bekasi public hospital.
Wisnu Agung Prasetyo | SOPA pictures | LightRakete | Getty Images
Indonesia reported the highest number of new coronavirus infections worldwide in the week that ended July 18, according to the World Health Organization.
While the numbers seem to have been falling in the past few days, a public health expert says deaths will continue to rise.
The fourth most populous country in the world overtook India as the new coronavirus epicenter in Asia, surpassing India for the highest daily new cases per million people in June, data compiled by Our World in Data showed.
The latest weekly epidemiological update from WHO WHO said Between July 12 and July 18, more than 3.4 million new cases were reported worldwide since many countries around the world continue to experience surges.
Indonesia topped the list with the most new infections over the period with 350,273 cases – a 44% increase from the previous week. Great Britain, Brazil, India and the USA followed.
To be clear, Indonesia still lags behind the US, India and 11 other countries in terms of total infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The US has reported more than 34.22 million cases to date, while India has had more than 31.25 million cases – although health experts believe the numbers there are grossly underestimated. By comparison, the Southeast Asian nation has reported 2.98 million infections so far, Hopkins data showed.
Indonesia reported a record 1,383 deaths on Wednesday Despite immediate measures to contain the spread of the disease.
According to Ben Cowling, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, that number could continue to rise in the coming days.
“The death toll is likely to increase for another 2-3 weeks due to the delay between case confirmation and mortality,” he told CNBC in an email.
Just this week, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has extended Covid restrictions, but daily infections have decreased. He said health measures could be eased starting July 26, if new cases continue to decline.
Indonesia reported a new high of 56,757 confirmed cases on July 15, according to Our World in Data, and infections have declined almost daily since then.
Cowling said it was reasonable to interpret the falling case numbers to show the effects of the tighter restrictions. However, Edhie Rahmat, executive director for Indonesia at a humanitarian organization, said the decline could be due to other factors.
One is that fewer tests are being done as Indonesians do not want to be tested, he told CNBC in an email.
“Officials may say the newly confirmed Covid-19 cases are declining … but that’s because the number of tests and follow-ups continues to decline even after harsh social restrictions were put in place in Java,” said Rahmat of Project HOPE or Health Opportunities for People all over.
“There is growing reluctance among people to be tested – even if they have a runny nose, fever or other Covid-19 symptoms,” he said, adding that they do not want to be asked to isolate themselves or accept the stigma of the test to ask positive.
According to Our World in Data, Indonesia tested a record 188,551 people on July 17. That number dropped to 138,046 the next day and to 127,590 the following day.
Cases and tests have only been in decline for a few days and may not necessarily represent a trend. But even if Covid infections continue to decline, Rahmat said, the total number of active cases remains very high.
He estimates that two thirds of Covid patients have to be treated in self-isolation at home because there are not enough hospital beds.
Around 30% of Covid tests in Indonesia are positive, as shown by data compiled by Our World in Data.
“The high rate of positivity suggests that the case numbers are likely a significant underestimation of the total number of infections,” Cowling said.
Rahmat said the second wave was “not over yet”.
“Newly diagnosed cases and deaths from COVID-19 are still high, showing that the worst is not over yet,” he said.
When asked what can be done, he said Indonesia needs to expand isolation centers and improve access to supplies such as oxygen and medicines.
He also said that local governments should continue to rely on people outside the medical sector to carry and distribute oxygen as health care workers are overwhelmed with caring for patients and giving vaccinations.
According to Our World in Data, on July 20, 15.49% of the Indonesian population received at least one dose of a vaccine while around 6% are fully vaccinated.