Oxygen prices leap in Indonesia's capital as COVID-19 cases surge

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By Yuddy Cahya Budiman and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) -Oxygen prices in Indonesia's capital had more than doubled and some suppliers reported shortages on Tuesday after a surge in COVID-19 cases that prompted the Red Cross to warn of a coronavirus "catastrophe" in Southeast Asia's biggest country.

Indonesia has announced record daily COVID-19 infections of more than 20,000 in recent days, in a new wave fueled by the emergence of highly transmissible virus variants and increased mobility after the Muslim fasting month.

With hospitals filling up in the capital, Jakarta, and patients being turned away, some people sought to secure oxygen for infected family members at home. The price for a tank of oxygen had jumped to $140 from the usual $50, suppliers said.

"I'm queuing here now to refill oxygen for my wife and son who are now positive with COVID-19," said Taufik Hidayat, 51, at one supplier. "I went around and it all was sold out."

Sellers in others areas in Jakarta told Reuters their stocks had also dried up.

But Sulung Mulia Putra, an official at Jakarta health agency, said a shortage at hospitals was temporary and due to distribution issues that were being resolved.

"Distributors don't have enough transport so hospitals will be helped by the police, parks agency and Red Cross to transport oxygen," he said.

Hospitals in several designated "red zone" areas have reported overcapacity, including Jakarta, with its isolation beds 93% occupied as of Sunday.

"Hospitals are full because of the case surge caused by mobility and loosening health protocol adherence, worsened also by the Delta variant," said senior health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi.

In the face of the rise in cases, Indonesia's health minister is leading a push for stricter controls, sources familiar with government discussions told Reuters.

The spread of the Delta variant has prompted concerns of a crisis in the world's fourth most populous country on the scale of that in recent months in India, where the variant was first detected.

"Every day we are seeing this Delta variant driving Indonesia closer to the edge of a COVID-19 catastrophe," said Jan Gelfand, head of the Indonesian delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Indonesia is banking on mass vaccinations to get on top of the virus, but only 13.3 million of the 181.5 million targeted for inoculation have received the required two doses.

Japan will provide two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in July, Indonesia's foreign minister Retno Marsudi said on Tuesday.

Indonesia has so far received 104 million doses of coronavirus vaccines in total. Out of its population of more than 270 million, 181.5 million are set to be vaccinated by January 2022.

Indonesia reported 20,467 more infections on Tuesday and 463 more deaths, bringing the totals to 2,156,465 cases and 58,024 deaths.

(Additional reporting and writing by Stanley Widianto and Kate Lamb; Editing by Martin Petty, Matthew Tostevin, William Maclean)