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Indonesia’s daily cases surge past India, becomes new COVID epicenter

Indonesia surpassed India’s daily coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) case numbers, marking a new Asian virus epicenter as the spread of the highly-contagious delta variant drives up infections in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

The country has seen its daily case count cross 40,000 for two straight days — including a record high of 47,899 on Tuesday — up from less than 10,000 a month ago. Officials are concerned that the more transmissible new variant is now spreading outside of the country’s main island, Java, and could exhaust hospital workers and supplies of oxygen and medication.

Indonesia’s current numbers are still far from India’s peak of 400,000 daily cases in May, and its total outbreak of 2.6 million is barely a tenth of the Asian giant’s 30.9 million. India, with a population roughly five times the size of Indonesia’s 270 million people, saw daily infections drop below 33,000 on Tuesday as its devastating outbreak wanes.

Indonesia reported 907 deaths daily on average in the past seven days — compared to just 181 a month ago — while India reported an average of 1,072 daily fatalities.

Developing countries are struggling to contain the virus — especially delta’s rapid spread — even as vaccine rollouts are allowing life to return to normal in countries like the US and UK.

The outbreak in Indonesia underscores the consequences of an unequal global distribution of vaccines that has seen richer countries gobble up more of the supply, leaving poorer places exposed to outbreaks of variants like delta. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called the growing divide a “catastrophic moral failure.

Indonesia has administered vaccines to cover just 10% of its population and India 14%, compared to 46% of the European Union’s population and 52% in the US, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. Lacking enough immunizations, the developing world is bearing the brunt of rising case counts and death tolls, with global fatalities reaching 4 million earlier this month.

Health authorities have blamed supply constraints for the sluggish pace of Indonesia’s vaccine rollout. The country has averaged just over 700,000 shots administered daily in July, well below its target of 1 million. Officials aim to raise that goal to 2 million next month with more doses set to arrive, allowing the inoculations to expand to all adults and teenagers.

Indonesia’s positive COVID test rate has reached about 27%, while India’s rate is 2%. Larger numbers indicate a government is only testing the sickest patients, and that there are high levels of undetected infection in the community. Experts say both nations are under-counting cases and deaths by a wide margin given their lack of testing infrastructure.

Curbs imposed on Java and tourism spot Bali from July 3-20 haven’t eased people’s movements as much as the government had expected.

Residents’ mobility has only eased by 6% to 16% since the restrictions were put in place, whereas authorities had expected a 20% drop, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a hearing with lawmakers on Tuesday. The government had earlier said that a 50% reduction in mobility was needed to reduce COVID’s spread.

“Our hospitals can’t endure it anymore if we fail to reduce movement by at least 20%,” Mr. Sadikin said. — Bloomberg

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