Indonesian government has ordered producers to prioritize medical oxygen amid a Covid surge and a shortage of oxygen in a number of cities as the East Asian country is recording more than 25,000 cases daily.
Hospitals say they have almost exhausted supplies, with one reporting that 63 patients died as a result of oxygen shortages.
Indonesia has had the worst Covid outbreak in South East Asia, with about 2.3 million positive cases and more than 60,000 deaths so far.
However, experts warn that the overall numbers are potentially much higher because of severely inadequate testing outside the capital Jakarta.
A lockdown was announced on the country’s main island Java, as well as in the tourist island of Bali last week.
‘A war-like emergency’
On Monday, two hospitals in the city of Bandung announced that they had run out of oxygen, and had to reject new patients seeking emergency treatment.
Over the weekend, emergency services and intensive care units of public hospitals in the cities of Bandung, Surakarta, and Pamekasan said they were struggling with an influx of people seeking admission with some having to turn away patients.
“It’s a war-like emergency,” a woman seeking treatment for her elderly mother told the BBC’s Indonesian service. Her mother had first been rejected at a hospital that had run out of beds, and was only able to get admitted to a makeshift tent at another one.
Some hospitals are treating their patients outside in makeshift tents
In the Regional General Hospital (RSUD) in Bandung, the emergency room was closed for Covid patients as of 2 July, with the lack of oxygen being one of the reasons.
“Four days ago, there was shortage of oxygen supply from distributors and vendors,” hospital head Mulyadi told the BBC at the weekend. “So four days ago, I tried to make the use of oxygen more efficient.”
He added that producers are struggling to meet the increased demand from hospitals.
“Every day a lot of people come, 10 to 15 Covid-19 patients, there are a lot of queues,” doctor Syaiful Hidayat at the Smart Pamekasan Hospital told the BBC.
The pulmonary specialist says they initially set up an emergency tent for Covid patients but were later forced to turn some patients away.
Demand is also driving prices up
Health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi said they had asked the gas industry to step up production of medical oxygen, and appealed to people not to hoard.
“We hope people don’t stock up on oxygen,” she said, adding that this would only worsen the shortage for others.
Her comments come as people have been trying to privately secure oxygen cylinders to treat patients at home.
New cylinders ands refills are hard to come by, and prices have doubled because of high demand.
The edge of a catastrophe
In Jakarta, the daily number of funerals following Covid protocols jumped 10-fold since early May, the government said on Sunday.
There is also a high number of infections and deaths among the country’s medical frontline workers, despite most of them being vaccinated.
The country is mostly relying on the Chinese Sinovac jabs and experts are now considering giving a third dose to boost efficacy against the new Delta variant.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said last week that the country was “teetering on the edge of a Covid-19 catastrophe”.
Meanwhile, starting Tuesday, Indonesia will change entry rules for foreign visitors, only allowing in fully vaccinated people who present a negative Covid test, the authorities said.
Incoming visitors will still have to spend eight days in quarantine upon arrival.