Indonesian experts worry worst is yet to come as cases surge

JAKARTA : A jump in coronavirus cases on Indonesia's two most populous islands has health experts worried that the worst is yet to come, with few curbs on movement at a time when dangerous variants drive record fatalities elsewhere in South-east Asia.

Case numbers have risen sharply in Java and Sumatra three weeks after holidays that followed Ramadan, when millions ventured across the archipelago, ignoring a temporary travel ban.

In Kudus, central Java, where healthcare reinforcements have been brought in, cases skyrocketed 7,594 per cent, according to Dr Wiku Adisasmito of Indonesia's Covid-19 task force. Hospital capacity had hit 90 per cent there, local media reported.

Dr Defriman Djafri, an epidemiologist from Andalas University in Padang, said fatalities in West Sumatra last month were the most on record.

In Riau on Sumatra, daily cases more than doubled from early April to over 800 by the middle of last month, while the positivity rate was at 35.8 per cent last week, said Dr Wildan Asfan Hasibuan, an epidemiologist and provincial task force adviser.

Dr Wildan attributed the spike to increased mobility and the possible spread of variants, which have driven big spikes in many countries.

The impact of these variants are hard to determine in Indonesia, which has limited genomic sequencing capacity.

Dr Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist from Australia's Griffith University, said Indonesia should take Covid-19 variants more seriously, particularly the Delta variant, which he said was in its early stage of spreading. "If we don't change our strategy, we will face an explosion of cases in the community (and) mortality will increase," he said. - REUTERS