Jakarta / Kudus, Indonesia – It should have been a time of celebration for Puji Apriani’s family: she was pregnant with her second child and a few weeks away from giving birth.
But instead of embracing a new life, his family is now in mourning.
“I miss her. She was healthy, the pregnancy was normal. And suddenly she’s gone,” said her younger sister Ery Jurniastuti.
The family lives in Kudus, central Java, one of the areas hardest hit by the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Indonesia.
“He felt out of breath and coughed. He also felt stomach contractions, ”said Ery.
Hosting nearly 900,000 people, Kudus has seen a 7.594% increase in cases since the beginning of this year.
After a sharp rise in cases this month, overwhelmed hospitals have been forced to sideline patients.
After being rejected by two hospitals, Puji was finally admitted and oxygen levels rose slightly.
But it was too late. His condition deteriorated and he died in hospital.
“He died first, then they checked the baby’s heart. The baby is still inside, they didn’t take it out. He died there. “
Doctors against Delta
At Loekmono Hadi General Hospital in Kudus, Dr Abdul Aziz Achyar said he was “surprised” by the ferocity of the rise, which has raised hospital occupancy rates to more than 90 per cent.
“During Ramadan, it was so quiet. We only had 18 patients. But then, when it started … I was hospitalized myself, “he told Al Jazeera.
One hundred and fifty-three of his comrades also contracted the virus and two of them died.
Indonesia’s ability to track variants is limited, but doctors believe the current outbreak in Kudus is due in part to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India.
“We sent cases from the health center [for genome sequencing]… of 72 samples, 62 were the new variant, “Dr. Abdul said.
At Aisyiyah Kudus Hospital, Dr. Najib Budhiwardoyo said his hospital is completely in good condition.
“We are full of patients with COVID. That second wave started after Eid, ”he said.
“All Kudus hospitals are experiencing this problem … lack of oxygen. We need to be selective; we can only use oxygen for patients with very low saturation.”
Swamp converted into a cemetery
Not only are Java hospitals close to capacity, but so are cemeteries.
In the Indonesian capital, designated COVID-19 burial sites, such as Pondok Rangon Cemetery, which opened in the early months of the pandemic, are already full.
Cemetery workers told Al Jazeera they were struggling to keep up with their work.
“Before COVID, I used to dig 10 graves every day. But yesterday we dug 46 graves. The day before, they were 51 years old, ”said Darsiman, a 20-year-old undertaker.
“We are very tired. We work from morning to night.
In Rorotan, north of Jakarta, a new burial site was opened a few weeks ago for those who have died of COVID-19 and more than 800 people have already been buried there.
As the death toll continues to rise, finding space for the dead in this densely populated city is becoming a challenge.
The lands of Rorotan used to be an empty swamp: the families of the deceased must walk through the mud, to respect their loved ones.
“This is a new cemetery … the other locations are full. There are so many cases of COVID, so they have to bring them here,” Darsiman said.
“It has rained, so it’s muddy. It’s very sad to see funerals here, even ambulances get stuck trying to get in. “
Tombstone writer Wahyudin said his workload has increased due to the pandemic, and that working in the cemetery has an emotional weight.
“I feel so sad to see so many graves. Seeing these families cry, I think of my own family, ”he said.
“Before COVID, he also made tombstones, but now he is busier. So many people have died. “
There are few times to rest: just as workers lower a coffin wrapped in plastic on the ground, more ambulances arrive and more dead to bury.
“India should be our lesson”
This week, Indonesia surpassed two million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 55,000 confirmed deaths.
Dr. Nadia Siti, head of Infectious Diseases at the Ministry of Health, said the increase in cases is not surprising.
“We know that if there are holidays or events, there is a growing number of people moving and traveling from other cities,” he said.
“The government had restrictions on mudik, which is the tradition of Muslims to visit their hometown [during Eid Al Fitr]. However, there are between four and six million people who traveled.
The situation in Kudus and the capital is of particular concern to the Ministry of Health, where bed occupancy rates are high and hospital workers are already overwhelmed by the crisis.
“In Jakarta, the bed occupancy rate is almost 80 to 90%. We are instructing hospitals to turn their beds into COVID-19 services so that they can be available to patients,” he said.
“The ultimate strategy is to establish field hospitals with the coordination of the army or the police.”
Long before the pandemic, Indonesia had a shortage of medical professionals and there are concerns about how it will cope with its widespread healthcare system when infections are expected to peak in July.
“With existing doctors, paramedics and nurses, it may not be enough. We may need an experienced doctor to supervise five or ten new ones who have no experience in patient care,” Dr. Nadia said.
“We hope not to face the same situation as India. What happened in India should be our lesson. ”