Just two months ago, Indonesia came forward to India’s aid with thousands of tanks of oxygen. Today, the Southeast Asian country is running out of oxygen as it grapples with a devastating wave of coronavirus cases and the government is seeking emergency supplies from other countries, including Singapore and China.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the government minister in charge of Indonesia’s pandemic response, said a shipment of more than 1,000 oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators and other health equipment arrived from Singapore on Friday, followed by another 1,000 ventilators from Australia.
In addition, Pandjaitan said, Indonesia plans to purchase 36,000 tons of oxygen and 10,000 concentrators — equipment that generates oxygen — from neighboring Singapore. He said he was in contact with China and other possible oxygen sources. The US and the United Arab Emirates have also offered help.
Overall, Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has reported more than 2.4 million infections and 63,760 deaths from COVID-19. Those figures are widely believed to be a huge undercount due to low testing and poor tracing measures. On Thursday, Indonesia reported nearly 39,000 confirmed cases, its biggest single-day jump.
Indonesia’s hospitals have been flooded, with increasing numbers of sick people in isolation at home or waiting to receive emergency care. In Indonesia’s most populous island, Java, hospitals began setting up temporary intensive care units in mid-June. Many patients are waiting for several days to get admitted. Oxygen tanks rolled on the sidewalks for the lucky few, while others were told they’d have to find their own.
The city’s deputy mayor Yaya Mulyana said emergency rooms at a public hospital in Bandung city were closed earlier this week amid panic buying over rising infections in the West Java provincial capital.
“The panicked people bought oxygen tanks, though they didn’t need them yet,” said Muliana. “This has exhausted the supply of oxygen.”
At a hospital in Yogyakarta in central Java, 63 COVID-19 patients died in one day – 33 of them during its central liquid oxygen supply, although the hospital switched to using oxygen cylinders was, spokesman Banu Harmawan said.
When a brutal outbreak ravaged the country, Indonesia donated 3,400 oxygen cylinders and concentrators to India. As its own cases rose, Jakarta scrapped plans to send another 2,000 oxygen concentrators to India in late June. The daily requirement of oxygen has reached 1,928 tonnes per day. According to government data, the total available production capacity of the country is 2,262 tonnes per day.
“I asked for 100% oxygen first for medical purposes, which means all industrial allocation should be shifted to medical,” said Panjaitan, a minister in the government. “We are racing against time, we have to act fast.”
Noting the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant, he warned that Indonesia could face a worst-case scenario with 50,000 cases a day. The next two weeks will be crucial, he said.
The industry ministry responded by issuing a decree that all oxygen supplies be sent to hospitals packed with coronavirus patients and asked industry players to cooperate.
Oxygen is used to make many products including textiles, plastics and vehicles. Oil refineries, chemical makers and steel makers also use it. But industry leaders are clamoring to support government efforts to maximize supplies for hospitals.
The government has redirected oxygen supplies from industrial plants at Morowali in Central Sulawesi, Balikpapan on the island of Borneo, and Belawan and Batam on the island of Sumatra, Pandjaitan said. Small oxygen industries have also been directed to produce pharmaceutical oxygen.