Southeast Asia’s worst wave

Two years ago, no one could have anticipated the world in which we live today, struck by one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

With cases still soaring and more and more bodies lined up in Thailand, the battle here is far from over. There is no shortage of devastation or despair in our country, felt in hospital corridors, on the front page of the newspaper and on the dinner tables in our homes.

But Thailand is not alone in this fight. The devastating third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly surrounding the highly infectious Delta variant, has been ravaging Southeast Asia, leading to a record number of deaths and daily infections linked to the virus. 

Many have noted that most countries in the region are experiencing their “worst outbreaks since the pandemic began,” due to the emergence of the more aggressive forms of variants, lack of vaccines and spread of misinformation. 

Here’s the latest update on how other nations are doing in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is the new epicenter

Indonesia has become the new epicenter of the pandemic as of this week. The country is ranked the highest in Southeast Asia, third in Asia, and 16th in the world.

With a reported 2,911,733 million cases and 74,920 deaths, Indonesia has surpassed India and Brazil to become the country with the world’s highest daily count of new infections. But the exact numbers — including cases with asymptomatic patients, patients who have not been tested or those who have died at home — could be much higher.

Much like Thailand, social media in the country is flooded with news of those affected by the outbreak, with netizens pleading for help and grieving the loss of their loved ones. Hospitals are overcrowded, and burial sites are running out. The current situation and economic hardship also make social isolation almost impossible, especially for those living on a daily wage.

Many experts have cautioned that the country still hasn’t even reached the peak of the pandemic yet, and it may surpass India’s number of infections in the near future.

Aside from the startling rise in infections, Indonesia is also facing a situation that Dr. Pandu Riono, a prominent epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia, calls “herd stupidity” due to widespread and rampant misinformation. According to Dr. Pandu, Indonesian government officials have been sending mixed messages and making poor decisions throughout this outbreak. Many citizens have also refused to follow strict health protocols and social distancing, as well as refusing vaccinations based on religious conspiracy theories.

The vaccine rollout in Indonesia has been incredibly low, with only 6 per cent of the population vaccinated out of its 270 million inhabitants. So far, the government has only tested 15,793,858 of its entire population. The World Health Organization, since the onset of the pandemic last year, has already urged the country to perform more tests on its people, especially on suspected patients.

Myanmar’s military coup

The February coup in Myanmar, followed by the subsequent protests and civil disobedience movement led by citizens and healthcare workers alike, has crumbled the country’s healthcare system and deepened its already ailing economic recession. A nationwide lockdown and additional holidays have been imposed from July 17 – 25, in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

But the country’s Covid-19 testing system and vaccination rollout, in fact, have collapsed ever since the military coup took place. In defiance of the military government, many citizens have refused treatment and vaccination. Doctors and patients have fled military-run hospitals because of anger and fear toward the military authorities and their refusal to cooperate with the regime. Families are searching for treatment and oxygen on their own, according to The Asian Times.

According to the latest report by CNN, as many as one-third of all people tested in Myanmar have tested positive for the virus, with the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights warning that the junta-run country could become the next “Covid-19 super spreader state.”

Myanmar is in a crisis. Hospitals and crematoriums are overwhelmed and are unable to keep up with the surge. Volunteers have been going door-to-door to collect the rising number of victims dying at home.

Out of a population of 54 million, the junta-struck country has reported 234,710 cases and 5,281 linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

Vietnam’s latest surge

Vietnam was previously hailed as one of the world’s Covid-19 success stories, until the latest surge ravaged the country. Its largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, is now on the verge of medical collapse as the virus has spread rampantly into the commercial and supply chain hub since the beginning of June.

“Vietnam is now officially entering the pandemic,” noted a prominent Vietnamese doctor, Dr. Tran Van Phuc, while adding that the country is also suffering through a low vaccination rollout. As of July 17, the communist-led nation has administered 4,261,252 vaccine doses across the country out of its 96.46 million inhabitants, accounting for only up to around 4.5 per cent of its total population. However, only 309,791 have got two doses. 

Over half of the country’s infections occurred during the past month, with 60,180 reported cases and 334 deaths linked to the virus. Health authorities believe that it all started with Ms. Loan, who started experiencing symptoms in April, attending a church service where people were not wearing masks back in Hanoi earlier in April of this year.

To control the outbreak, the Vietnamese government advised its citizens in the capital city of Hanoi to stay at home and stopped all non-essential services. There has been a nationwide closure of indoor dining, salons, gyms, as well as a halt to domestic travel via rail and bus.

“This outbreak is not the same as the previous ones,” said the country’s health minister Nguyen Thanh Long on Sunday. “We are preparing and standing ready for worse and worse scenarios.”

Malaysia’s white flag

In Southeast Asia, Malaysia has the third highest number of infections after the Philippines and Indonesia, with 927,533 cases and 7,148 deaths. The country is currently battling its worst pandemic to date, seeing an all-time high in daily infections consecutively last week, with its death toll tripling in the past two months.

Due to the staggering rise in cases since May, Malaysia has gone into “full lockdown” nationwide since June 1, 2021, which includes an 8 pm curfew in the capital Kuala Lumpur and the neighboring state Selangor. The spike in cases has caused hospitals in some regions to reach full capacity, running severely low on medical supplies, with the entire healthcare system as a whole on the brink of collapse. Only 8 per cent of its 32 million people are fully inoculated, while 19 per cent have received at least one jab of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Besides having severe economic effects on the country, the pandemic has caused major political instability and uproar against the government.

Many Malaysians are now struggling for their lives and pleading for help. Statistics indicate that the suicide rate has gone up to alarming levels, with a total of 468 suicides reported during the first five months of 2021, up from 631 during the same period in 2020.

With the #benderaputih (white flag) campaign, Malaysians, namely those belonging to lower-income households, have been flying white flags outside their homes and posting them on social media as a plea for help. Much like Thailand, celebrities, businesses and other citizens have offered their help by providing food and other necessities.

Following the “white flag” campaign, some people have responded to the movement with another one by flying the black flag, a new campaign urging Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to resign. This was led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who tweeted three black flag emojis earlier in July.

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