Jakarta, Indonesia – On a residential street in Bogor, on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital, another family lost a loved one due to COVID-19.
A young woman was sitting in front of her father’s body, holding her rosary and sobbing.
“Wake up, please don’t sleep,” she cried, and a team of funeral homes carefully wrapped his body in sterilized plastic.
Muhammad Jauhar, 32, is part of a team that helps families in the area, and he is familiar with the sound of sadness.
He told Al Jazeera: “We do all kinds of work in this task force. I drive an ambulance for the dead, and I prepare a lot of things-including coffins and shrouds.”
He said: “I am also preparing to clean, pack and transport the corpse to the cemetery.”
Jauhar is not the undertaker-he is actually a director in a television production. However, as Indonesia is struggling with the recent surge in COVID-19 deaths, there are too many distressed families and not enough workers to bury the dead.
At the COVID-19 cemetery, gravediggers work late into the night to keep up with their workload.
Volunteers like Jauhur are now an important part of Indonesia’s funeral industry.
“The impact of COVID is huge, and the death toll in Bogor is really high. This is what we can do to help these families,” he said.
“We have not received any payment. We do this work from the heart.”
This month, Indonesia surpassed India in the number of daily COVID-19 cases and surpassed Brazil, reporting the world’s highest number of daily deaths due to COVID-19.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Indonesia exceeds 73,000.
On Monday, Indonesia reported 1,338 COVID-19 deaths, the highest in history.
But experts warn that even these numbers may be underestimated because the country’s coronavirus testing levels are too low.
As overwhelmed hospitals were forced to evacuate patients, more and more people died in isolation at home. Many people never even have the opportunity to receive treatment from a medical professional.
Lapor Covid-19 is an independent team responsible for collecting and collating pandemic-related data.
Ahmad Arif, one of the co-founders of the organization, said their research shows that the actual death toll is three to five times the government figure.
“Most people who died in quarantine have difficulty getting into the hospital. Their condition deteriorated and they tried to go to the hospital, but they were full, so they died at home,” he said.
“We have seen that the death of a self-isolated person is an indicator of the collapse of our medical services.”
The situation is far from getting better-there are signs that even in the more remote provinces of Indonesia, a health crisis is emerging.
“Outside of Java, deaths in self-isolation have begun to occur. Last week, we obtained data on the number of deaths in Riau, Lampung, East Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan, etc.,” Ahmed Say.
“This shows that the health service can no longer control cases.”
In Bogor, only 3 of the 50 volunteers of the Burial Task Force are women.
According to religious teachings, only people of the same sex can perform the Islamic ritual of washing the dead and the shroud.
Nurhasanah, 37, is one of the female volunteers-since the other two women are students, she agreed to go to the evening shift.
She should start at 8 in the evening and end at 5 in the morning.
But as the death toll in her community soared, her shift hours became longer, sometimes she worked more than 14 hours a day.
“I’m a housewife, I only worked at home before,” Nurhasana said.
“I really don’t think about the timing. After seeing the situation of these families, I thought to myself, I want to help them.”
In the past week, Nurhasanah helped prepare the bodies of three to four women for burial every day.
She said that due to health regulations, she is not always able to bathe her body-therefore, in some cases, she cleans her body with disinfectant and prays.
“We do this from the bottom of our hearts, we just want to help them. Even after I get home, I will think of them.”