The Indonesian government has ordered the gas industry to switch to production of medical oxygen as the country grapples with a shortage, leading to dozens of deaths in a hospital on Saturday after supply ran out.
The decision comes amidst rising numbers of cases related to Covid-19’s highly infectious Delta variant.
According to Indonesia’s maritime affairs and investment minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the demand for medical oxygen has increased “three to four times” in the country, leading to supply issues.
The government is asking oxygen producers to dedicate their full supply to medical needs and will import it if needed, Mr Pandjaitan was quoted by CNA news agency as saying in a virtual news conference.
The ministry overseeing Indonesia’s Covid-19 response ordered the gas industry to prioritise production to fill estimated demand of 800 metric tons of oxygen each day for medical needs.
This comes after more than 63 people died in a hospital in Sardjito hospital in Yogyakarta city after the central supply nearly ran out out. In a statement, the hospital said it had sought more oxygen for days before the incident, but Covid-19 patients streaming in since Friday had pushed it beyond its capacity, consuming oxygen faster than expected. The crisis eased when it began to receive fresh supplies just before dawn on Sunday.
On Monday, two hospitals in the city of Bandung announced that they had run out of oxygen, and had to reject new patients seeking emergency treatment. Hospitals in other populated cities also raised alarms over the rising influx of new Covid-19 patients, as many had to set up tents outside to admit them.
Earlier, health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi also said they had asked the gas industry to step up production of medical oxygen, adding that she hopes “people don’t stock up on oxygen” as that would only worsen the shortage for others.
The residents are also reportedly struggling to procure oxygen cylinders and refill them, as prices skyrocket amid high demand and cylinders become difficult to find.
A similar situation was witnessed in India in the month of April when dozens of people died in the national capital Delhi and other cities as the ferocious second wave stressed the oxygen supply lines.
With the new Delta variant spreading faster, Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populated country, has reported a record high of 27,913 new cases on Saturday. Emergency lockdowns were imposed on the islands of Bali and Java – which includes the capital Jakarta – on Saturday to curb the spread of the resurgent virus.
Indonesia has had the worst Covid outbreak in south east Asia, with about 2.3 million positive cases and more than 60,000 deaths so far.