Jakarta/Kudus, Indonesia – For Puji Apriani’s family, this should be a time of celebration – she is pregnant with her second child, only a few weeks before delivery.
But her family did not welcome a new life, but mourned.
“I miss her. She is healthy and her pregnancy is normal. Suddenly, she is gone,” her sister Ery Jurniastuti said.
The family lives in Kudus, Central Java, which is one of the most affected areas in Indonesia by the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“She felt out of breath and was still coughing. She also felt her stomach contract,” Eli said.
Kudus has nearly 900,000 people, and cases have increased by 7,594% since the beginning of this year.
After a sharp increase in cases this month, overwhelmed hospitals were forced to shut out patients.
After being rejected by the two hospitals, Puji was finally admitted, and her oxygen level rose slightly.
But it was too late. Her condition deteriorated and she died in the hospital.
“She died first, and then they checked the baby’s heart. The baby was still inside and they didn’t take it out. It died there.”
Doctor vs Delta Air Lines
At the Loekmono Hadi General Hospital in Kudus, Dr. Abdul Aziz Achyar said he was “surprised” by the magnitude of the surge, which has pushed the hospital’s bed occupancy rate to over 90%.
“During Ramadan, it was very quiet. We only had 18 patients. But when it started…I was hospitalized myself,” he told Al Jazeera.
His 153 colleagues also contracted the virus and two of them died.
Indonesia’s ability to track mutations is limited, but doctors believe that the current Kudus outbreak is partly due to the spread of the Delta mutation, which was originally discovered in India.
“We sent cases from the health center [for genome sequencing]…Of the 72 samples, 62 are new variants,” said Dr. Abdul.
At Aisyiyah Kudus Hospital, Dr. Najib Budhiwardoyo said that his hospital is fully operational.
“We are full of COVID patients. The second wave started after Eid al-Fitr,” he said.
“All hospitals in Kudus have encountered this problem…there is a shortage of oxygen. We must be selective; we can only use oxygen for patients with very low saturation.”
The swamp became a cemetery
Not only the hospitals in Java are close to capacity, but so are the cemeteries.
In the Indonesian capital, designated COVID-19 cemeteries that opened in the first few months of the pandemic, such as Pondok Rangon Cemetery, are full.
The cemetery staff told Al Jazeera that they are trying to keep up with their workload.
“Before COVID, I used to dig 10 graves a day. But yesterday, we dug 46 graves. The previous day was 51 years old,” said 20-year-old gravedigger Dassiman.
“We are tired. We work from morning to night.”
In Rorotan, North Jakarta, a new burial site for COVID-19 victims was opened a few weeks ago-more than 800 people have been buried there.
As the death toll continues to rise, finding space for the dead in this densely populated city is becoming a challenge.
Rorotan’s land used to be an empty swamp-the family of the deceased must trek through the mud to show respect to their loved ones.
“This is a new cemetery… the other places are full. There are too many cases of COVID-19, so they have to bring them here,” Dassman said.
“It has been raining, so muddy. It is very sad to see the funeral here, even the ambulance got stuck trying to come in.”
Tombstone writer Vasyudin said that due to the pandemic, his workload has increased-working in the cemetery will bring emotional loss.
“I feel very sad to see so many tombs. Seeing those families crying, I think of my own family,” he said.
“Before COVID, I also made a tombstone, but I am busier now. So many people have died.”
There is very little time to rest—just like a worker puts a plastic-wrapped coffin underground, more ambulances arrive, and more dead have to be buried.
‘India should be our lesson’
This week, Indonesia’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus exceeded 2 million, and the death toll exceeded 55,000.
The head of infectious diseases at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Nadia Siti, said the increase in cases is not surprising.
“We know that if there are holidays or activities, more and more people will relocate and travel from other cities,” she said.
“The government imposes restrictions on Mudic. This is the tradition of Muslims visiting their hometowns. [during Eid Al Fitr]In spite of this, there are still four to six million people traveling. “
The situation in Kudus and the capital is of particular concern to the Ministry of Health, where bed occupancy rates are high, and hospital staff have been crushed by the crisis.
“In Jakarta, the bed occupancy rate is almost 80% to 90%. We instruct hospitals to convert their beds to COVID-19 services so that patients can use them,” she said.
“The last strategy is to establish a field hospital under the coordination of the army or the police.”
Long before the pandemic, Indonesia lacked medical professionals—there was concern about how its strained medical system would respond when the infection is expected to peak in July.
“With existing doctors, paramedics and nurses, this may not be enough. We may need an experienced doctor to supervise five to ten new doctors who have no experience in caring for patients,” said Dr. Nadia.
“We do hope that we will not face the same situation as India. What happened in India should be our lesson.”