A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment attends to a Covid-19 patient with an oxygen mask in a wheelchair outside Bekasi Public Hospital.
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Indonesia reported the highest number of new Covid infections in the world last week, according to the World Health Organization.
While the numbers appear to be coming down in recent days, one public health expert said deaths will continue to rise.
The world’s fourth most populous country has overtaken India to be the new epicenter of the coronavirus in Asia, surpassing India in June in terms of the highest daily new cases per million people, data compiled by Our World in Data showed.
The WHO’s latest weekly epidemiological update said more than 3.4 million new cases were reported globally between July 12 to 18, as many countries across the world continue to experience surges.
Indonesia topped the list with the most new infections during that period at 350,273 cases — a 44% increase from the week before. It was followed by the U.K., Brazil, India and the U.S.
Indonesia still trails the U.S., India and 11 other countries in terms of total infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. has reported more than 34.22 million cases while India has had more than 31.25 million cases — though health experts believe the numbers are grossly underreported there. In comparison, Indonesia has reported 2.98 million infections, Hopkins data showed.
Indonesia reported a record 1,383 deaths on Wednesday despite emergency measures aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.
That figure may continue to increase in the coming days, according to Ben Cowling, a professor at The University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.
“Deaths will likely continue to rise for another 2-3 weeks because of the lag between case confirmation and mortality,” he told CNBC in an email.
Just this week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo extended Covid restrictions, but said daily infections have fallen. He said the health measures could be eased starting Monday if new cases continue to drop.
According to Our World in Data, Indonesia reported a new high of 56,757 confirmed cases on July 15, and infections declined almost every day since.
Cowling said it’s reasonable to interpret the falling case counts as showing the impact of the tighter restrictions. But Edhie Rahmat, executive director for Indonesia at a humanitarian organization, said the decline may be due to other factors.
One is that fewer tests are being administered as Indonesians don’t want to be tested, he told CNBC in an email.
“Officials may say that the newly-confirmed Covid-19 cases are falling … but this is because the number of testing and tracing is also declining after the implementation of hard social restrictions in Java,” said Rahmat of Project HOPE, or Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.
“There is increasing hesitancy among people to be tested — even if they have a running nose, fever or other Covid-19 symptoms,” he said, adding that they don’t want to be asked to isolate themselves or face the stigma of testing positive.
Indonesia tested a record number of 188,551 people on July 17, according to Our World in Data. That figure fell to 138,046 on the next day and to 127,590 the following day.
Cases and tests have been declining only for a few days and may not necessarily represent a trend. However, even if Covid infections continue to decrease, the total number of active cases remains very high, Rahmat said.
He estimates that two-thirds of Covid patients have to be treated at home in self-isolation because there are not enough hospital beds.
Around 30% of Covid tests in Indonesia are returning positive, data compiled by Our World in Data showed.
“The high positivity rate indicates that the case counts are likely to be a substantial underestimate of the total number of infections,” Cowling said.
Rahmat said the second wave is “not over yet.”
“The newly-diagnosed cases and deaths from COVID-19 are still high, showing that the worst is not over,” he said.
Asked what can be done, he said Indonesia needs to expand isolation centers and increase access to supplies such as oxygen and medication.
He also said local governments should continue to rely on people outside the medical sector to transport and distribute oxygen because health-care workers are overwhelmed by caring for patients and administering vaccinations.
As of Tuesday, 15.49% of Indonesia’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, while around 6% are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.