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World's worst hotspot on our doorstep: Indonesia tops 50,000 cases a day

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Fears are rising that Australia’s closest northern neighbour has become the world’s worst COVID hotspot, with Indonesia recording more than 50,000 new infections each day.

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An outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta strain has pushed Indonesia past India as Asia’s COVID-19 epicentre.

On Wednesday, Indonesia’s health ministry posted its highest-ever numbers — 54,517 new cases and 991 deaths in 24 hours — with daily mortality rates up to 10 times the numbers seen in early June.

But the official data is widely believed to be a severe undercount due to low testing rates and poor contact tracing.

“Indonesia could become the epicentre of the pandemic, but it’s already the epicentre of Asia,” said Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Griffith University.

The Delta variant first identified in India has been found in 11 areas outside of the densely populated Java island, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.

Cases and bed occupancy rates have risen in parts of Sumatra, Papua and Kalimantan, or Indonesian Borneo, and far-flung regions like West Papua were especially concerning, he told parliament this week.

“We must monitor this tightly, because if there’s something happening there, their health capacities are below Jakarta or Java,” Budi said.

Ismen Mukhtar, an epidemiologist in Lampung, said Indonesia’s regions were extremely vulnerable.

“Health facilities are urgently needed because they save lives,” he said.

“But what’s more important is limiting transmission.”

Indonesia’s real number of daily cases could be topping 100,000 a day and threatens to double by the end of the month, with as many as 2,000 daily virus deaths, Budiman warned.

India, which was battered by a fierce COVID wave earlier this year, is now reporting an average of about 44,000 daily cases and 1,028 deaths.

Java hospitals have been deluged in recent weeks, with many people struggling to get treatment. Most of the 550 people who have died in isolation since June were on Java, according to independent data initiative group Lapor COVID-19.

The Philippines announced on Wednesday it would ban travellers coming from Indonesia to prevent the risk of spreading the Delta variant.

As health experts warn Indonesia could be the next India, the government has scrambled to boost capacity and secure sufficient oxygen supply.

Senior minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who spearheads the emergency response, on Wednesday said oxygen supplies were well managed, with more than 1500 oxygen generators expected to arrive from Singapore and China.

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