JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Just two months ago, Indonesia came to gasp for India’s aid with thousands of oxygen tanks.
Today, the country in Southeast Asia is running out of oxygen as it endures a devastating wave of coronavirus cases and the government is seeking emergency supplies from other countries including Singapore and China.
A shipment of more than 1,000 oxygen cylinders, concentrators, fans and other health equipment arrived from Singapore on Friday, followed by another 1,000 fans from Australia, said Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the prime minister responsible for Indonesia̵
In addition to these donations, Indonesia plans to buy 36,000 tons of oxygen and 10,000 concentrators – units that generate oxygen – from neighboring Singapore, Pandjaitan said.
He said he is in contact with China and other potential oxygen sources. The United States and the United Arab Emirates have also offered assistance.
“We recognize the difficult situation that Indonesia is currently in with an increase in COVID cases,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. In addition to sending vaccines, the United States is working to increase aid to Indonesia’s broader COVID-19 effort, she said without elaborating.
In total, Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has reported more than 2.4 million infections and 64,631 deaths from COVID-19. These numbers are widely considered to be a large undercount due to low testing and poor tracking measures. Indonesia reported the highest rate of 1,040 deaths on Wednesday and nearly 39,000 confirmed cases on Thursday and Friday.
Hospitals are flooded with growing numbers of patients dying in isolation at home or while waiting to receive emergency care.
In Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, hospitals began setting up temporary intensive care units in mid-June. Many patients are waiting for days to be admitted. Oxygen tanks were rolled out on sidewalks for those lucky enough to get them, while others have been told to find their own.
Emergency rooms at a public hospital in Bandung city closed earlier in the week after running out of oxygen in panic, which was bought by severe infections in the western Java provincial capital, said Yaya Mulyana, the city’s deputy mayor.
“Panicists bought oxygen tanks even though they did not need them yet,” Mulyana said. “It has caused the oxygen supply to run out.”
At a Yogyakarta hospital in central Java, 63 COVID-19 patients died in one day – 33 of them during a shutdown of its central liquid oxygen supply, even though the hospital had switched to using oxygen cylinders, spokesman Banu Hermawan said.
Indonesia donated 3,400 oxygen cylinders and concentrators to India when a brutal eruption ravaged the country. As its own cases increased, Jakarta then canceled a plan to send another 2,000 oxygen concentrators to India in late June.
The daily oxygen demand has reached 1,928 tons per day. The country’s total available production capacity is 2,262 tons per day according to government data.
“I asked for 100% oxygen for medical purposes first, which means all industrial allocations must be transferred to medical,” said Pandjaitan, the prime minister. “We’re running against time, we need to work fast.”
Given 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 critical, he said.
The Ministry of Industry responded by issuing a decree sending all oxygen supplies to hospitals overcrowded with coronavirus patients, asking industry players to cooperate.
Oxygen is used in the manufacture of many products, including textiles, plastics and vehicles. Oil refineries, chemical producers and steelmakers also use it. But industry leaders have fallen in line with supporting the government’s efforts to maximize supplies to hospitals.
The government has diverted oxygen supplies from industrial plants in Morowali in central Sulawesi, Balikpapan in the Borneo island, and Belawan and Batam in the Sumatra islands, Pandjaitan said. Smaller oxygen industries have also been tasked with producing pharmaceutical oxygen.