JAKARTA: East Java has become the largest epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia, and experts said the residents' lack of discipline in adhering to social distancing rules is to be blamed for the rise of infections.
On Jun 26, the total infections in East Java surpassed that of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. As of Wednesday, more than 12,000 cases had been recorded in the province, while Jakarta’s figure stood at 11,637.
East Java also had the highest number of deaths which on Wednesday stood at 926. Jakarta's figure is 632.
Mr Windhu Purnomo, a public health expert from East Java’s Airlangga University, noted that the province first saw a significant rise in the number of infections during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in May.
Muslims in Indonesia usually travel back to their hometowns and villages ahead of the Idul Fitri holiday which marks the end of the fasting month, in a tradition known as “mudik”.
“This caused the disease to spread from areas like Jakarta and Bali, particularly as businesses there had to close and many people were laid off,” Mr Purnomo told CNA.
According to data from the provincial government, East Java began to see a significant rise in the number of infections in mid-May.
On May 23, days before Idul Fitri, the number of daily infections in the province spiked to 473. Since then, the number of daily infections in the province ranges between 160 and 400.
Mr Purnomo also said that residents of East Java had been disobeying health protocols.
“You can see it on the streets, in markets and public spaces. People are not wearing masks and not practising social distancing. Meanwhile, the government is only reprimanding the violators instead of a strict sanction,” he said.
“I am not surprised that East Java surpassed Jakarta’s number of infections and became a new epicentre in the country.”
Dr Sutrisno, chairman of the East Java chapter of the Indonesian Doctor’s Association, also said that the East Java government had not been firm in punishing people who ignored health protocols and the government’s social restrictions order.
“The condition is putting a strain in the province’s healthcare system. COVID-19 referral hospitals are becoming overcrowded. New patients are coming non-stop and medical workers are working non-stop too,” he told CNA.
Dr Sutrisno, who like many Indonesians has only one name, added that 76 doctors in East Java had contracted COVID-19 so far, and eight of them have died.
He said East Java is also experiencing a shortage of isolation wards, particularly in capital Surabaya, which contributes half of the total infections in the province.
This shortage, he added, is contributing to the province’s high death toll and slow recovery rate of just 32 per cent, which is lower than the national average of 43.2 per cent.
With more than 57,000 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, Indonesia is the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia.
PLANS TO INCREASE TESTING LABS AND HOSPITAL BEDS: HEALTH OFFICER
East Java’s COVID-19 mitigation chief Dr Joni Wahyuhadi acknowledged a lack of discipline among the people in adhering to health protocols.
“That’s why we have provided 2.5 million masks for free and regularly promote healthy lifestyles through various platforms as well as getting the help of community leaders,” he told CNA.
However, he said it is not surprising that the province has more cases than Jakarta because it has a population of 38 million, compared to Jakarta’s 9.6 million.
“We have also been very aggressive in our contact tracing. We have also been conducting mass testing to screen the population and isolate those who have been infected so that they don’t infect others,” he told CNA.
But the central government believed that East Java has not performed enough tests considering the size of its population.
The province has a test rate of 1,428 per one million population, which is considerably lower than Jakarta's 21,406 tests per one million population and Bali's 7,151 tests per one million population.
"This means that East Java still needs to conduct more massive testing," Dr Achmad Yurianto, who is the Ministry of Health's director-general for infectious disease, said on Monday.
To step up the province's testing capacities, Dr Wahyuhadi said there are plans to increase the number of testing labs from 17 to 27.
“We are increasing the number of labs capable of performing (COVID-19) tests as well as increasing the number of hospital beds,” he said.
East Java is also planning to convert dormitories to house asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, he said.
“This way, only people with severe symptoms or comorbidity are treated at hospitals.
“We are optimistic that we can suppress the number of infections and have the pandemic under control.”