When Suharyanto’s pregnant wife Rina Ismawati and two of their three children fell last month, he initially thought it was a cold. But with the increase in Covid-19 cases in Indonesia, he took them to be tested.
The whole family tested positive for Covid-19, including Suharyanto – and 43-year-old Ismawati was hospitalized, where she lay in bed and occasionally sent Suharyanto messages via WhatsApp. “She told me her condition was getting worse,” Suharyanto said. “She couldn’t breathe.”
Riski died in hospital on June 22. Suharyanto had only ever seen him in a photo. The next day, Ismawati also died.
Suharyanto’s wife and child are just two of the devastating and growing Covid-19 toll in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, which is fast becoming the new center of the coronavirus crisis in Asia.
With more than 2.7 million people infected and more than 70,000 dead, onlookers are warning that the country may not have reached its peak.
How did this happen
The country had seen a “dramatic increase in confirmed cases” after the holidays, Indonesia’s health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said earlier this month. He attributed the explosion in cases to the rapidly spreading Delta variant, which was first identified in India and has since spread to nearly 100 countries.
Indonesia went into lockdown on July 10, after which the country reported more than 30,000 new cases every day. The government said it is “mobilizing all resources” to face the Covid-19 wave, including bringing in oxygen from other countries to increase supply.
And the current numbers probably don’t show the whole picture. More than 27% of tests come back positive, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, giving Indonesia one of the highest test positivity rates in the world. The numbers suggest that many cases are still not being caught.
Just a cold
Another major barrier to managing the outbreak in Indonesia is the avalanche of misinformation.
Amid all the noise, warnings about the severity of Covid-19 are being lost.
A few weeks ago, Karunia Sekar Kinanti, 32, noticed that her two-month-old son Zhafran had a fever, but assumed it was just a cold.
Her Mom had the flu and was coughing, but Kinanti didn’t think it was Covid because her mom still had a sense of smell. “Her symptoms didn’t seem to be Covid-19 so I was calm to respond to them,” she said. “Then Zhafran, me and my other child got sick too.”
Two weeks ago, when he weakened and his breathing became more difficult, she took Zhafran to the hospital, where scans showed that Covid-19 had already damaged his right lung.
She remembers the doctor telling her to prepare for the worst. “You can be optimistic, but it all depends on God,” she recalls saying.
On July 5, Kinanti’s mother died. Kinanti still doesn’t know if her mother had Covid because she hasn’t been tested. Kinanti did not attend her funeral – she was in the hospital with her young son.
Aman B. Pulungan, the chairman of the Indonesian Children’s Association, said it is common for parents to assume that their child does not have Covid-19, in part because many people in Indonesia are not aware that children can be infected.
Families do little to protect children from the virus, and even when they’re infected, parents often think it’s a cold. Schools were closed last year and have closed again as part of this latest lockdown, but Indonesian children are currently on summer vacation.
“We don’t protect our children. This is the problem,” he said.
“A more extreme type of commentary is making the rounds on social media, questioning the legitimacy of the government’s pandemic response altogether and even dismissing all official information about Covid-19,” they wrote.
When Kinanti and her baby Zhafran arrived at the hospital, all the beds in the intensive care unit were already full.
A front desk worker took pity on Zhafran and helped them get a room, and the next day they were moved to an isolation room with other children infected with Covid-19. Zhafran was the youngest of them all, she said.
Speaking to CNN earlier this month, Kinanti said there were nine children in the hospital room with them and many more waiting for beds.
The outbreak and the shortage of hospital beds makes people with underlying conditions even more vulnerable. According to Pulungan, of the Indonesian Children’s Association, many children who die from Covid-19 have underlying health problems.
Such was the case for Tantien Hermawati’s baby Baswara Catra Wijaya, who was born with a heart condition.
She thinks he may have been infected with Covid-19 when he was hospitalized last November and had surgery for his condition. After he contracted Covid-19, she could barely look at her baby’s face – it was obvious he was in pain.
He died on December 11, 2020, before he was even four months old. Hermawati believes she was lucky – at least she was able to attend his funeral.
She advises other parents to be more careful and careful than she was, and to stay at home to prevent children from being exposed to Covid.
“It’s very sad when our kids get infected – our babies can’t tell us what part of their body is injured, and we don’t know it either. So please just stay home and stick to health protocol.”
Indonesia’s main hope in tackling the deepening crisis is vaccines, the country’s president, Joko Widodo, said on Wednesday.
“Fair and equal access to vaccines must be ensured as we see that there is still a large gap in vaccine access across the country,” he said, according to Antara News.
But for the millions already affected by Covid, those vaccines are coming too late.
The situation looks good for Kinanti and her baby Zhafran. His doctor is more optimistic about his survival, but warns that Zhafran may have always had reduced lung capacity.
She says she underestimated Covid and thought there was no way it could affect her child: “I was late when I got to the hospital, and I really regret it.”
Suharyanto, the father of three, lives with the guilt of not knowing if he brought Covid-19 into their home. He works as a motorcycle taxi driver in Semarang City, Central Java Province; he always came and went – but his wife stayed at home.
“The kids are already going on. But me, I’m still crying alone. I regret things, but I never thought this could happen,” he said. “I still can’t believe she was gone so quickly.”
Suharyanto wants people to understand that Covid is not fake news or a conspiracy – for him it is painfully real.
“They have never seen their family die of Covid,” he said.