South-East Asia’s battle with COVID-19 intensifies

South-East Asia is now one of the world’s hardest hit regions as the pandemic continues, fueled by the Delta variant. This is in stark contrast to 2020 when countries across the region were hailed for its Covid response.

Hospitals continue to be overwhelmed and death tolls continue to climb amid a largely politically charged environment, particularly in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Although governments and health authorities are trying to secure more vaccines, particularly the more effective mRNA ones, it has been an uphill battle to keep up with a variant as infectious as Delta. 

According to data released by John Hopkins University earlier this month, during the first two weeks of August, the region recorded 38,552 deaths from Covid-19 – nearly twice as much as North America, which was once the epicentre of the outbreak.

“This COVID-19 surge driven by the Delta variant is claiming a tragic toll on families across South-East Asia and it’s far from over,” said Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific Director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. We fear that as” the virus spreads from cities to regional and rural areas that many more lives will be lost among the unvaccinated.”

“Vaccinations are at record rates in some countries, yet many South-East Asian nations have low portions of the population fully vaccinated and are languishing far behind Western Europe and North America.”

Here is how each SEA nation is faring amid the pandemic:

Thailand

With a total population of around 69.4 million people, Thailand is currently battling its worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic yet. With its latest vaccine procurements, restrictive measures, and a decrease of local cases, however, authorities believe that the country has passed the peak of the pandemic.

As of Monday, Thailand has had a total of 1,174,091 million cases and a further 11,143 deaths linked to the virus. A total of 6,596,785 people, or 9.9 per cent of the population, have now been fully vaccinated. A total of 28,835,580 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the country. At least 21,669,955 million people, or 32.6 per cent of the population, have been given at least one jab of vaccine.

Brunei

Brunei broke its 457-day streak of zero local transmissions at the beginning of August, which took the small South-East Asian nation into a two-week lockdown in a bid to contain the outbreak. 

The country extended its national lockdown for another two weeks on August 21, with Singapore donating 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Brunei on the same day. 

The country so far has reported a total of 2,462 cases and a further seven deaths linked to the virus. among a total population of 433,285. At the time of writing, 235,414 vaccine doses have been administered and a total of 80,383 (18.2 per cent) of the population have been fully vaccinated.

Cambodia

Cambodia has been experiencing large-scale outbreaks for the most part of 2021, starting in February, when two Chinese nationals who broke quarantine protocols in Phnom Penh tested positive for the virus on February 20. The government then subsequently implemented mass vaccination programmes as well as city-wide lockdowns throughout the following months, particularly from April onwards. But unlike its other South-Eeast Asian counterparts, Cambodia, for the most part, has been rather successful in achieving its vaccination targets.

On the first of August, its Ministry of Public Health confirmed 109 cases of the Delta variant, with five cases detected in the capital city. The government announced in August that it would administer booster vaccine doses to the general population until mid-2022, depending on the supply.

With a total population of 16.49 million people, Cambodia has reported a total of 92,208 cases and 1,881 deaths linked to the virus. A total of 18,337,332 million doses of the vaccine has been administered to the population, with 8,275,430 individuals, or 54.1 per cent of the total population now fully vaccinated.

Indonesia

Indonesia, which became the new epicentre of the outbreak back in July due to the Delta variant, has seen a gradual fall of cases as the government’s vaccination rollout programme finds its footing. 

Although the country passed the peak of infection rates in July, Indonesia is still seeing up to 10,000 infections per day as cases spread outwards to other cities and islands such as Bali and Java. The Indonesian government, however, has now begun to gradually ease its lockdown measures during the past weeks, such as reopening schools for children in the capital city of Jakarta after a 18-month lockdown of studying at home.

With a population of 270.6 million, the country has recorded a total of 4,073,831 infections and 131,923 deaths linked to the virus. Out of its 96,512,676 doses of the Covid-10 vaccines now administered in the country, a total of 34,858,000 people, or 13.1 per cent of the population, have now been fully vaccinated.

Laos

The landlocked country of Laos was the last Southeast Asia nation to report the first confirmed case of the virus back in 2020. On August 19, the Laos government announced that the ongoing lockdown would be extended by 15 days until September 2.

With a total population of 7.169 million people, as of August 30, there were a total of 14,641 cases and 12 deaths linked to the virus. 3,098,093 doses of the vaccine have been administered, with 988,156, or 13.9 per cent of the population, now fully vaccinated.

Malaysia

Considered as one of the most politically charged and volatile environments since the pandemic began, on August 16, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyuddin Yassin and his cabinet submitted their resignation letters to the king after a year of mounting pressure and as the nation grapples with its worst coronavirus outbreak and subsequent economic recession. 

The country, in recent weeks, have also reported a record of daily cases which have soared onces again due to the highly infectious Delta variant. Earlier on Monday, the country’s new PM, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, announced that he was now in quarantine after coming in close contact with a COVID-19 patient. 

With a population of 31.95 million people, the country has seen a total of 1,706,089 cases and a further 16,087 deaths linked to the virus. 34,027,548 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have now been administered throughout the country, with 14,648,590, or 44.7 per cent of the population, now fully vaccinated.

Myanmar

Myanmar, according to Jason Mills, deputy head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in the country, said the country probably has “the most politicized healthcare environment in the world right now,” due to the military coup, the people’s distrust of the military government, and, as the  locals have reported, the Myanmar military’s scheme in blocking healthcare accessibility to its people.

In July, it was reported that security forces in Myanmar fabricated a fake COVID-19 emergency to a clinic run by doctors striking against the military regime in Yangon, which later resulted in the arrest of five of the doctors. In August, the head of a charity organization was detained by Myanmar security forces after being tricked into a vaccination centre for a shot.

With a population of 54.05 million, Myanmar has reported a total of 392,300 cases and 15,183 linked to the virus. With a total of 6,253,687 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered, only 1,796,830, or 3.3 per cent of the population, have been fully vaccinated. 

The Philippines

The Philippines, much like Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia, has, for the most part of this year, been engulfed with rising cases of the coronavirus pandemic driven by the Delta variant. 

Amid the record of infections, however, President Rodrigo Duterte on August 19 had approved the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the Manila region starting from August 21 in a bid to try to spur economic activity. This, however, caused apprehension among its healthcare workers with 73 per cent of the country’s intensive healthcare capacity and 61 per cent of isolation beds already filled. 

With a population of 108.1 million, the country has seen a total of 1,954,023 cases and a further 33,109 deaths since the pandemic began. A total of 31,433,450 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has been administered, with 13,371,734, or 12.3 per cent of the population, now fully vaccinated.

Singapore

Perhaps one of the region’s highest success COVID-19 stories, following the rise of the Delta varian in May 2021, the country immediately returned to “Phase 3 Heightened Alert” of the country’s enacted “COVID-19 Control Order” response initiated since 2020, which included a stringent set of preventive measures (three preventive stages) under a system called the “circuit breaker lockdown.”

The country soon eased its preventive measures and entered a “Preparatory Stage of Transition” in August, with a mass vaccination program currently underway after the country successfully acquired the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for its citizens. On August 20, the country began allowing inbound travelers who have been fully vaccinated with a World Health Organization (WHO) approved vaccine to be eligible for a “vaccination-differentiated safe management measures”, which includes being able to dine in without having to go through “pre-event testing.”

With a population of 5.704 million, the country has reported a total of 67,171 cases and 55 deaths linked to the virus. 8,850,465 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered in the island country, with a total of 4,424,703 people, or 77.6 per cent of the population now fully vaccinated. 

Timor-Leste

Although not much data is currently available about the pandemic in Timor Leste, or East Timor. The first case of the virus was confirmed in the country in March 2020. 

As of August 30, 2021, a total of 16,402 cases and a further 62 deaths linked to the virus have been reported in the country. 556,783 total doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been given, with 181,411, or 13.1 per cent of the population, now fully vaccinated. 

Vietnam

Vietnam, much like Singapore and Thailand during 2020, has been hailed as the world’s leading success stories surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. But this all changed came summer of 2021, mainly due to the Delta variant. 

Towards the end of April 2021, the country experienced what was called a “fast-spreading outbreak” throughout the country of more than 350,000 cases, with clusters found in at least ten major hospitals throughout the country. 

The country continued to witness a soaring of cases throughout the summer, which, as experts pointed out, was due to its stumbling vaccination rollout program which initially were lacking, and relied heavily on the Chinese-made vaccines. Although vaccine acceptance is high in Vietnam, there is a “distrust on the safety and effectiveness” of Chinese vaccines, said Dr Thu Anh Nguyen, an infectious disease and public health researcher at the University of Sydney

On August 23, the country deployed its troops to enforce a strict lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City, amid panic buying and prohibiting residents from leaving their homes. On the same day, the Vatican also announced that it had sent nearly $120,000 in emergency funding for COVID-19 aid in the country. On August 25, the United States announced that it would donate an additional one million Pfizer vaccine doses to the country within 24 hours. 

With a total of 96.46 million people, Vietnam has reported a total of 435,265 infections and 10,749 deaths linked to the virus. A total of 19,151,122 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has been administered throughout the country, with 2,328,431 of its inhabitants, or a total of 2.4 per cent of the population, now fully vaccinated.

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