Indonesia seeks help as oxygen runs short

·3-min read

Just two months ago, Indonesia was coming to the aid of a gasping India with thousands of tanks of oxygen.

Now the Southeast Asian country is running out of oxygen itself as it endures a devastating wave of coronavirus cases.

The government is seeking emergency supplies from other countries, including Singapore and China.

Australia pledged on Wednesday to donate oxygen-related equipment, test-kits and 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to its stricken neighbour.

A shipment of more than 1000 oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators and other health devices arrived from Singapore on Friday, followed by another 1000 ventilators from Australia, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the government minister in charge of Indonesia's pandemic response, said.

Besides those donations, Indonesia plans to buy 36,000 tonnes of oxygen and 10,000 concentrators - devices that generate oxygen - from Singapore, Pandjaitan said.

He said he is in touch with China and other potential oxygen sources, while the US and the United Arab Emirates have also offered help.

"We recognise the difficult situation Indonesia currently finds itself in with a surge of COVID cases," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous country, has reported more than 2.4 million infections and 64,631 fatalities from COVID-19.

Those figures are widely believed to be a vast undercount due to low testing and poor tracing measures.

Indonesia reported its highest daily toll of 1040 deaths on Wednesday, and nearly 39,000 confirmed cases on Thursday and Friday.

Hospitals are swamped, with growing numbers dying in isolation at home or while waiting to receive emergency care.

On Java, Indonesia's most populous island, hospitals began setting up makeshift intensive care units in mid-June.

Oxygen tanks were rolled out onto pavements for those lucky enough to get them, while others have been told they have to find their own.

Emergency rooms at a public hospital in Bandung city closed earlier this week after running out of oxygen amid panic buying fuelled by soaring infections in the West Java provincial capital, said Yaya Mulyana, the city's deputy mayor.

"Panicked people bought oxygen tanks even though they didn't need them yet," Mulyana said.

"That has led to oxygen supplies running out."

At one hospital in Yogyakarta, in central Java, 63 COVID-19 patients died in one day - 33 of them during an outage of its central liquid oxygen supply, though the hospital had switched to using oxygen cylinders, spokesman Banu Hermawan said.

Indonesia donated 3400 oxygen cylinders and concentrators to India when a recent brutal outbreak ravaged the country.

"I asked for 100 per cent of oxygen to go to medical purposes first, meaning that all industrial allocations must be transferred to medical," Pandjaitan said.

"We are racing against time, we have to work fast."

Given the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, he warned Indonesia could face a worst-case scenario of 50,000 cases a day.

The next two weeks will be critical, he said.

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