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Coronavirus

Indonesia posts record daily COVID-19 cases as variant fear grows

Total surpasses 2 million in country struggling to contain second wave

Municipal workers carry the coffin of a COVID-19 victim at a burial area in Jakarta on June 21.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesia posted a record 14,536 new daily confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, its highest since the pandemic started, with cumulative cases surpassing the 2 million mark.

The grim milestone comes as Indonesia struggles to contain the second wave of the pandemic, with hospitals becoming overloaded amid worries that the more virulent delta variant, which originated in India, might be spreading silently.

Another 294 deaths were also reported on Monday, taking the overall death toll to 54,956.

The capital, Jakarta, saw the most new cases, 5,014, followed by Central Java at 3,252 and West Java at 2,719.

Indonesia is struggling with vaccinating its population, with only 8.3% of its people having gotten at least one shot since its inoculation drive started in January, according to Our World in Data. While that is better than regional peers like Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, which started their vaccination programs later, Malaysia has reached a 12.2% vaccination rate despite only starting in late February.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Indonesia had been on a downward trend since late January, but numbers began to see alarming rises after the Islamic holiday of Idul Fitri (Eid al-Fitr) in mid-May. Wide travel restrictions imposed before and after the holiday deterred many, but not all, of the millions of people who normally travel to their home towns and villages.

The rise in cases prompted the Indonesian government on Monday to announce the tightening of social restrictions in high-risk "red zones" from Tuesday for two weeks. Offices, restaurants, cafes and malls will only be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. There are currently 29 red zones across Indonesia, including in parts of Aceh, the island of Sumatra and Central Java. Jakarta is currently classified as a medium-risk orange zone.

"Hotel bed occupancy is above 70% in 87 cities and regencies across 29 provinces," said Airlangga Hartarto, coordinating minister for economic affairs, in a news conference on Monday announcing the tightened social restrictions. The minister added that the government will look to increase its daily vaccination numbers to 1 million from July.

The country's target is to immunize 181.5 million people, roughly 70% of its population, in around a year, to reach herd immunity.

The post-Eid surges have been expected -- Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin had earlier said cases would likely peak five to seven weeks after Eid, which means they might still climb through early July.

But the World Health Organization warned of another danger from what it calls "variants of concern" in its latest Indonesia situation update published last week. Indonesia's health ministry said last week it had detected 107 cases of the delta variant -- which was responsible for India's deadly wave in May -- out of 148 cases from three WHO-listed variants of concern. That is a significant growth from 32 delta cases detected the week before.

The WHO urged stricter measures. "With increased transmission due to variants of concern, urgent action is needed to contain the situation in many provinces," it said. "Drastic increase in bed occupancy rates ... in high-risk provinces is a major concern and necessitates the implementation of stricter public health and social measures, including large-scale social restrictions."

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