JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) – Indonesia’s capital is racing to open more cemeteries to cope with the coronavirus death toll that has doubled in less than three months despite vaccination efforts.
Jakarta’s government bought more than three hectares (7.4 acres) of land to use as dedicated cemeteries for those who have died from Covid-19, said Suzi Marsitawati, who heads the province’s park and forest service. The new sites will accommodate at least 8,000 burial plots, after the existing two cemeteries hit capacity.
It’s a grim reminder of Indonesia’s struggle to contain the virus spread as scant testing and loose quarantine measures push infection and fatality counts to the highest in Southeast Asia. The outbreak has taken a turn for the worse since the holidays late last year – Covid-19 deaths have doubled since November to reach almost 32,000.
A mass vaccination programme started in January hasn’t led to a steady drop in new infections or deaths. While Covid-19 fatalities fell 28 per cent last week, the most since August, the drop followed the deadliest week ended Jan 31 when more than 2,000 people died.
As the number of new cases fell 11 per cent last week from the previous period, the country’s high positivity rate signals insufficient testing as nearly a third of those examined were found to have the virus.
The availability of burial plots and funeral supplies is important in a country that’s home to the world’s largest Muslim population, where the religion bans cremation and urges believers to ensure the dead are buried within 24 hours.
That has pushed furniture builder PT Funisia Perkasa to shift some of its production into making caskets.
Owner Lie Amin, 58, had experienced the shortage firsthand after two of his close relatives died of Covid-19 early in the pandemic and the health centres ran out of caskets for them.
“When people lose a loved one, they want to do their very best for them. Having no casket or having to use a makeshift one is upsetting for the grieving family,” Lie said. When he was later approached by authorities seeking help in producing caskets, he readily agreed.
The government started by asking him to supply 50 caskets a day back in April. Now, the company produces about 150 daily. Lie hopes Indonesia can rein in the outbreak soon so he can return to making chairs, tables and beds.
“I’m a furniture maker,” he said. “I am not making caskets for a living.”
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