For much of last year, it seemed like Indonesia had managed to keep its Covid-19 outbreak largely under control.
Now, the island nation – home to about 270 million people – has become Asia’s new epicenter of the pandemic, reporting more daily cases and deaths than hard-hit India as a devastating second wave rips through the archipelago.
With tens of thousands of infections being recorded daily, experts say the country’s health care system could be pushed to the brink of disaster if the spread of the virus continues unabated.
Infections started rising toward the end of May, following the Eid Al-Fitr holidays to mark the end of the Islamic fasting month – and soon grew exponentially.
According to health experts, the crisis is being fueled by the spread of the more infectious Delta variant, first identified in India.
“Every day we are seeing this Delta variant driving Indonesia closer to the edge of a Covid-19 catastrophe,” Jan Gelfand, head of the Indonesian delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in late June.
Experts have blamed the government for its slow response in not implementing strict lockdowns last year after cases were first reported in the country, and its alleged failure to invest in efficient testing and tracing systems.
As of July 20, Indonesia had recorded nearly 3 million total cases and more than 76,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But experts fear the figures underestimate the real spread in the country due to a lack of testing.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report in July said inadequate testing continues to be a problem, with more than 50% of provinces reporting a testing rate below the recommended benchmark.
“Without appropriate testing, many provinces are unable to isolate confirmed cases on time,” the report said.
Indonesia’s Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told CNN in early July that authorities at first did not realize how quickly the virus had been spreading during this latest wave.
The islands of Java and Bali were placed under emergency lockdown on July 3 along with other cities across the archipelago. Domestic travel is not restricted, though it is dependent on a negative Covid-19 test.
On July 20, Indonesia extended Covid-19 restrictions to July 25.
Usually busy streets in downtown Jakarta on July 15, 2021, as the highly infectious Delta variant rips across Indonesia
The second wave has affected every age group, according to experts. However, the number of children dying from the virus in Indonesia has quadrupled in recent weeks, according to the country’s pediatric society.
More than 550 children have died since the start of the pandemic – about 27% of whom died in the first few weeks of July.
Parents often mistake the symptoms for a common cold and don’t get children tested, according to Aman B. Pulungan, president of the Indonesian Society of Paediatrics.
“When they realize this is Covid-19, the condition is already bad,” Aman said. “When they take the children to the hospital, sometimes we do not have enough time to save the children. This is happening a lot.”
Frontline workers have also been affected by the surge. In early July, more than 350 doctors and medical workers in Java caught Covid-19 despite being vaccinated with Chinese-made Sinovac. Most of the workers were asymptomatic and self-isolating at home, but dozens were hospitalized with high fevers and falling oxygen-saturation levels.
Read more about the Covid-19 crisis in Indonesia here.
CNN’s Amy Sood contributed reporting.