When Suharyanto’s pregnant wife Rina Ismawati and two of their three children fell ill last month, he initially thought it was a common cold. But with Covid-19 cases rising in Indonesia, he took them to get tested.
The whole family tested positive for Covid-19, including Suharyanto — and 43-year-old Ismawati was admitted to hospital, where she lay in bed, occasionally sending Suharyanto messages through WhatsApp. “She told me that her condition was getting worse,” Suharyanto said. “She couldn’t breathe.”
On June 22, Riski died in hospital. Suharyanto had only ever seen him in a photo. The following day, Ismawati died, too.
Suharyanto’s wife and child are just two of the devastating and growing Covid-19 toll in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, which is fast becoming the new center of Asia’s coronavirus crisis.
With more than 2.7 million people infected and more than 70,000 dead, onlookers caution the country may not have reached its peak.
How did this happen
The country had seen a “dramatic increase in confirmed cases” after the festive holidays, Indonesia’s Health Minister, Budi Gunadi Sadikin, said earlier this month. He put the explosion in cases down to the fast-spreading Delta variant, which was first identified in India and has since spread to almost 100 countries.
Indonesia entered a lockdown on July 10, by which point the country was reporting more than 30,000 new cases each day. The government said it is “mobilizing all resources” to deal with the Covid-19 surge, including bringing in oxygen from other countries to increase the supply.
And the current numbers likely don’t capture the whole picture. More than 27% of tests come back positive, according to Johns Hopkins University figures, giving Indonesia one of the highest test positivity rates in the world. The numbers suggest that many cases still aren’t being caught.
Just a common cold
Another major barrier to controlling Indonesia’s outbreak is the flood of misinformation.
Amid all the noise, warnings about the severity of Covid-19 are being lost.
A few weeks ago, Karunia Sekar Kinanti, 32, noticed her two-month-old son Zhafran had a fever, but she assumed it was just a common cold.
Her mother had a flu and cough, but Kinanti didn’t think it was Covid because her mother still had a sense of smell. “Her symptoms didn’t seem to be Covid-19, so I was calm about responding to it,” she said. “Then Zhafran, me, and my other child got sick, too.”
Two weeks ago, as he became weaker and his breathing became more labored, she brought Zhafran to hospital, where scans showed Covid-19 had already damaged his right lung.
She remembers the doctor telling her to prepare for the worst. “You can be optimistic, but it all depends on God,” she remembers him saying.
On July 5, Kinanti’s mother died. Kinanti still doesn’t know whether her mother had Covid because she wasn’t tested. Kinanti didn’t go to her funeral — she was in hospital with her young son.
Aman B. Pulungan, the president of the Indonesian Pediatric Society, said it’s common for parents to assume their child doesn’t have Covid-19, in part because many people in Indonesia are unaware children can be infected.