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Indonesia’s doctors low on basic supplies for virus fight

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They are low on supplies and basic protective gear as virus spread looms

JAKARTA : Reduced to sharing goggles and cheap raincoats, Indonesia's under-equipped doctors are battling a tide of coronavirus infections that is overwhelming its creaky healthcare system - and killing their colleagues.

Two dozen doctors have died since the outbreak began there.

Yesterday, 380 new infections were reported, taking the total to 5,516, said health ministry official Achmad Yurianto.

He reported 27 new deaths, taking the total to 496, while 548 have recovered.

Almost 40,000 tests have been performed, while patients suspected of having the symptoms reached more than 11,800 .

But critics warn that the official death toll is way below reality in a country with some of the lowest virus testing rates in the world.

Hospitals do not have enough basic protective gear - never mind sophisticated ventilators - leaving many poorly paid doctors to battle the virus with little more than plastic rain ponchos.

Jakarta doctor Muhammad Farras Hadyan said supplies are running so low at his hospital that some colleagues rely on donations from family members to buy the few available certified hazardous material suits.

"The rest rely on the hospital's supply and they have to wait," he said.

Dr Handoko Gunawan, a 79-year-old pulmonary specialist, was on the front line until he was forced into quarantine.

"I was shaking so bad, and the nurse was trembling," Dr Gunawan, who later tested negative for the illness, said of treating patients.

"These young health workers have spouses and children at home, but they still brave the challenges. Doctors are scarce in Indonesia and if they die, we will have fewer people to treat patients," he added.

Indonesia has fewer than four doctors for every 10,000 people, according to World Health Organisation data - far below hard-hit Italy (around 40) or South Korea and Singapore (about 24).

President Joko Widodo has called for greater transparency in the country's fight.

The move comes after the President was informed that the virus had spread to all provinces in a country of nearly 270 million people.

In his push for transparency, Mr Joko has ordered all coronavirus-related information to be consolidated in a single system to be managed by the nation's Covid-19 task force.

Indonesia expects the number of cases to peak between May and June with around 95,000 infections.

"We believe the peak of the pandemic in Indonesia will start at the beginning of May and last until the beginning of June," said Professor Wiku Adisasmito, a public health expert and an adviser to the Covid-19 task force. Based on epidemiological modelling from various institutions, including Harvard University, Prof Adisasimto said cases may reach 106,000 by July.

Another model by University of Indonesia's public health faculty has warned that there could be more than 140,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases across Indonesia by next month unless the government gets tougher. - THE STRAITS TIMES, AFP, REUTERS