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Highlights in the media today: COVID-19 takes toll on Indonesia’s healthcare system, Indonesia still struggles to contain virus, while neighboring countries see improvement; Manufacturing improves, but risks remain. 

The rising number of cases has taken a toll on the country’s healthcare system. COVID-19 Task Force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito said on Tuesday (September 2) that the isolation and ICU bed occupancy rates in Jakarta’s 67 referral hospitals had reached 69% and 77%, respectively, on August 28.

Data from the Health Ministry’s RS Online system show that other regions also saw spikes in occupancy rates over the past week. The provinces with the highest bed occupancy rates—even as the number of beds were increased—were Bali (72.55%), Jakarta (67.25%), East Kalimantan (55.62%), Central Java (49.30%), and Banten (49.30%).

Not only hospitals were feeling the strain; some community health centers (Puskesmas) have either been forced to close down after their workers contracted the virus or have been running understaffed as some of their workers went into isolation.

As of September 3 15:52 (GMT+7), Indonesia had confirmed 184,268 COVID-19 cases, with 132,055 recoveries and 7,750 deaths. In the past 24 hours, the government had confirmed record-high 3,622 new cases.

Indonesia continued to struggle to handle the crisis six months into the pandemic, while other countries in the region, like Thailand and the Philippines, have been able to claim success in their handling of the pandemic.

Indonesia reported 3,075 new cases and 111 more deaths on Wednesday (September 2), while Thailand has reported zero cases of local transmissions for 100 days in a row. The Philippines, meanwhile, recorded  2,218 new cases, the country’s lowest daily increase in cases in five weeks, and 27 additional deaths.

Public health experts and epidemiologists have blamed the worsening situation in Indonesia on the “business-as-usual” approach taken by the central government and regional administrations, some of which have decided to relax social restrictions even though infection cases have been continuing to increase.

SMERU Research Institute senior researcher Yudi Fajar said that despite the severity of the public health crisis, the government is still maintaining the same-old bureaucratic structure, leading to a jumble of policies and actions that only added to the confusion and fostered a false sense of security among the public, Yudi said on Wednesday.

IHS Markit’s Manufacturing Purchasing Managers‘ Index (PMI) for Indonesia rose to 50.8 points in August from 46.9 in July. A value above 50 indicates an expansion against the previous month, while a reading below 50 reflects contraction.

IHS Markit Head Economist Bernard Aw said on Tuesday (September 1) that the higher PMI was driven by solid growth in both production volumes and new order inflows in August, as well as revived demand from the gradual reopening of the economy.

However, the rise in production has yet to lift factories’ capacity utilization to a level higher than before the pandemic struck, as manufacturers used stocks of goods to meet increased demand, resulting in further layoffs.

Economists have warned that despite the improvement, the expansion of manufacturing activity will face at least two challenges: inferior disbursement of government funds and emerging factory clusters.

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