(Adds comments from tourism minister paragraphs 6-8, 24, new data paragraph 3, Sinovac approval for 12-17 age paragraph 25)
JAKARTA, June 28 (Reuters) - Indonesia’s health minister is leading a push for stricter controls as coronavirus infections in the country surge to unprecedented levels, according to sources familiar with government discussions.
Coronavirus cases in Indonesia have tripled in the past three weeks, overwhelming hospitals in the capital Jakarta and other centres on the heavily populated island of Java.
On Monday, Indonesia recorded 20,694 new infections, bringing the weekly total to 131,553.
Three sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin had urged tougher social restrictions but was overruled. He is continuing to push his case, they said. One of the sources said government meetings on the issue would take place this week. The health minister’s position was supported by the tourism minister Sandiaga Uno, who confirmed to Reuters that a tougher lockdown was under active consideration.
“I am encouraging a tougher lockdown (but) we would need to provide the basic necessities for the people,” he said.
“If the number of cases is increasing, then we need to adjust very quickly.”
Citing the need to safeguard Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, Indonesia has mostly rejected lockdowns imposed by its neighbours and similar large developing countries like India.
Instead Jakarta has opted for social restrictions targeting villages and neighbourhoods deemed “red zones” due to high infections, a policy known as PPKM Mikro.
Last week, the head of the country’s COVID-19 taskforce, coordinating economy minister Airlangga Hartarto, banned religious activities at houses of worship, closed schools and bars and required offices, restaurants, cafes and malls to operate at 25% capacity in red zones for two weeks.
When Reuters enquired if the health minister wanted greater curbs on social mobility, a ministry spokesperson replied “in accordance with the current policy”.
A spokesman for President Joko Widodo said: “Until now, we still have PPKM Mikro, empirically it is still very effective to control small areas.”
The Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) on Sunday called on the government to implement large-scale restrictions, especially across Java, home to more than half of the country’s 270 million population.
The IDI said 24 regencies and cities had reported isolation bed capacity at 90% full, while intensive care units in several areas were nearing 100% capacity and 30 doctors had died in June from COVID-19.
“If there is no firm intervention we will be like India,” said Adib Khumaidi, head of the IDI’s mitigation team, noting the surge in India’s cases in April and May and the “collapse” of its healthcare system.
Public health experts have warned the government’s current policy for social restrictions can’t be fully implemented by poorly resourced local officials and don’t account for people moving between red zones and other areas.
How villages and neighbourhoods are designated red zones is opaque and undermined by low rates of testing and tracing that masks the true extent of Indonesia’s overall infection rate, they said.
One source said that, among several options, presidential advisers were examining the lockdowns in India, where a fivefold increase in infections in little over a month was fully reversed in a similar timeframe.
If guidelines followed by Indian states were adopted in Indonesia, lockdowns would be introduced in 31 of its 34 provinces where positivity rates are at 10% or higher.
Adjusting for population size, Indonesia has about 40% of the intensive care beds in India, according to a study last year by Princeton University.
On Friday, the health minister announced plans for 7,000 more hospital beds in Jakarta for COVID-19 patients.
Uno, the tourism minister, said at least 15 hotels close to hospitals with up to 2,000 beds had been identified as places where patients with milder symptoms could be treated.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s food and drug agency on Monday approved the COVID-19 vaccine of China’s Sinovac for children aged 12-17. (Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Martin Petty)