© Reuters.

By Bernadette Christina

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia has ordered oxygen makers to prioritise medical needs amid growing demand from COVID-19 patients, the government said on Sunday, following more than 60 deaths in a hospital where supply of the life-saving gas was almost exhausted.

The world’s fourth most populous nation is battling one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, with Saturday’s 27,913 infections becoming the newest of many peaks during the last two weeks.

In a statement, the Sardjito hospital on the island of Java said 63 patients died after it nearly ran out of oxygen over the period from Saturday until early on Sunday, when fresh supplies arrived.

A hospital spokesman could not confirm if all the dead had suffered from COVID-19, however.

In response, the government was asking the gas industry to increase production of medical oxygen, said health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi.

“We also hope people don’t stock up on oxygen,” she added, referring to stockpiles that could have the effect of denying the gas to many.

The hospital said that for days before the incident it had sought more supplies of oxygen, but virus patients streaming in since Friday had pushed it beyond its capacity, consuming supply sooner than expected.

The crisis eased when it began to receive more supplies just before dawn on Sunday.

Separately, the ministry overseeing Indonesia’s COVID-19 response ordered the gas industry to prioritise production to fill estimated demand of 800 tonnes of oxygen each day for medical needs.

The industry has idle capacity of 225,000 tonnes a year that can still be used, the ministry added.

Hospitals across the main island of Java are being pushed to the brink by the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, which was first identified in India, where it caused a dramatic spike in cases and strained medical resources.

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, the government said the daily figure of funerals following COVID protocols had risen 10-fold since early May, with 392 burials on Saturday.

That was also the day 18 days of “emergency” curbs took effect in the islands of Java and Bali to control the spread of the virus.

From Tuesday, Indonesia will clamp down on arrivals of foreign visitors, allowing in only those who are fully vaccinated and have a negative PCR test, the ministry said, although diplomatic travel is excluded.

Visitors will still have to spend eight days in quarantine upon arrival.

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