Jakarta, Indonesia – In a residential street in Bogor, on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital, another family has lost a loved one to COVID-19.
A young woman sits in front of her father’s body, sobbing while holding her prayer beads.
“Wake up, please don’t sleep,” she wails as a team of undertakers carefully wrap his body in disinfected plastic.
The sound of grief is all too familiar to 32-year-old Muhammad Jauhar, who is part of the team helping families in the area.
“We do different tasks in this task force, I drive the ambulance for the dead and I prepare a lot of things – including the coffin and the shroud,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I also make preparations for cleaning, packing and delivering the body to the cemetery,” he said.
Jauhar is not an undertaker – he actually works in television production as a director. But as Indonesia struggles through this recent spate of COVID-19 deaths, there are too many grieving families and not enough workers to bury the dead.
In COVID-19 cemeteries, gravediggers work late into the night to keep up with their work.
Volunteers like Jauhur are now an essential part of Indonesia’s funeral industry.
“The impact of COVID is huge, the death toll in Bogor is really high. This is what we can do to help the families,” he said.
“We are not getting any payment. We do the work from the heart.”
This month, Indonesia surpassed India’s daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and surpassed Brazil in reporting the world’s highest number of daily deaths attributed to COVID-19.
The confirmed death toll from COVID-19 in Indonesia stands at more than 73,000.
Indonesia reported 1,338 COVID-19 deaths on Monday – the highest on record.
But experts warned that even these numbers are likely an undercount, because the country’s tests for the coronavirus are so low.
As overcrowded hospitals are forced to send the sick away, more people are dying at home in isolation. Many have never even had the chance to be treated by a medical professional.
Lapor Covid-19 is an independent group that collects and collects pandemic data.
Ahmad Arif, one of the co-founders of the group, said their research indicated that the actual death toll is three to five times higher than the government figures.
“Most of those who died in isolation struggled to access the hospitals. Their condition deteriorated, they tried to go to the hospital, but they are full, so they died at home,” he said.
“We see that the death of people in self-isolation is an indicator of the collapse of our health services.”
The situation is far from getting better – there were signs that a health crisis is emerging even in Indonesia’s more remote provinces.
“Self-isolation deaths have begun outside of Java. In the past week, we have received data from people who died in Riau, Lampung, East Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan and more,” Ahmad said.
“This is an indication that cases can no longer be contained by health services.”
In Bogor, only three of the 50 volunteers in the funeral task force are women.
According to religious teachings, only a person of the same sex is allowed to perform the Islamic rite of washing the deceased and enveloping the body.
Thirty-seven-year-old Nurhasanah was one of the female volunteers – since the other two women are students, she agreed to do the late shift.
She would start at 8pm and finish at 5am.
But as the number of deaths in her community has risen, her shifts have gotten longer, sometimes working more than 14 hours a day.
“I’m a housewife, I’ve only ever worked from home before,” Nurhasanah said.
“I don’t really think about the timing. After seeing the plight of these families, I feel in my heart that I want to help them.”
Over the past week, Nurhasanah has helped prepare the bodies of three to four women a day for burial.
She said she couldn’t always wash the body due to health protocols – so in some situations she cleaned the body with disinfectant and prayed.
“We do this from the heart, we just want to help them. I think about them even when I’m at home.”