Several countries around Asia and the Pacific that are experiencing their first major waves of the coronavirus rushed to impose severe restrictions, a year and a half into a pandemic that many initially did well.
Against the rapidly increasing number of infections in recent months, authorities in countries such as Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam announced or introduced measures on Friday that they hope can slow the spread before health care systems are overwhelmed.
It is a rhythm that is well known in large parts of the world, where repeated herds hospitalized and led to a large number of deaths. But many Asian countries avoided that cycle by imposing severe restrictions in combination with tough measures at home.
Now some record numbers of new cases and even deaths are being seen, partly due to the highly contagious delta variant in combination with low vaccination levels and decisions to alleviate constraints that have hit economies hard. Although the total number is not yet close to those seen in outbreaks of hotspots in Europe and the United States, the rapid rise of alarm bells started just as many Western countries with high vaccinations began to breathe a sigh of relief.
Thailand reported a record number of new deaths on Thursday with 75 – and they came in at 72 on Friday. South Korea set a record for the number of new cases on Thursday, only to break it on Friday with 1316 infections, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. For the first time, Indonesia is seeing a sharp increase, which means that hospitals are rejecting patients and the supply of oxygen is running out.
Of Thailand’s 317,506 confirmed cases and 2,534 deaths since the pandemic began, more than 90% have occurred since early April.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s handling of the waves has been widely criticized, including the decision to let people travel to the April Songkran Festival, which celebrates Thailand’s New Year.
Thailand already has strict rules on wearing masks and other rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the government announced even stricter measures for Bangkok and its environs, including closing spas, restricting public transport opening hours and restricting opening hours for markets and convenience stores.
“There is something wrong with the government’s policy, our vaccinations are too slow, and we should get better vaccines,” said resident Cherkarn Rachasevet, a 60-year-old IT analyst who rushed to the grocery store to refill supplies after hearing new restrictions. came, with four masks and a face shield.
She regretted that she did not due to her first shot until the end of the month.
Trailing vaccine frequency
Across Asia and the Pacific, the degree of immunization has lagged behind for various reasons, including production and distribution issues as well as an initial wait and attitude from many early on when numbers were low and there was less sense of urgency. .
In South Korea – widely praised for its initial response to the pandemic, which included extensive testing and contact tracing – critics are now criticizing a current increase in cases on government pressure to facilitate social distancing due to economic concerns. At the same time, a lack of vaccine supply has meant that 70% of the population is still waiting for their first shot.
However, the recent number of deaths has been low, and the authorities attribute this to the fact that many who have been vaccinated were older Koreans at risk.
Amid infections in the Seoul area, authorities announced on Friday that they would impose the strongest restrictions to date from next week. These include banning private social gatherings of three or more people after 6pm, closing nightclubs and churches, banning visitors to hospitals and nursing homes and restricting weddings and funerals to family gatherings.
No country has been worse off in the region recently than Indonesia. The seven-day rolling averages of daily falls and deaths both more than doubled in the last two weeks.
Health experts say a partial shutdown introduced on July 3 was a little too late and warned of the current wave, which is mostly on the islands of Java, Bali and some cities on the island of Sumatra, will soon spread across the large archipelago – and health and the healthcare system is already under pressure.
Despite a strict national closure in nearby Malaysia where residents are confined to their homes, with only one person per household allowed to buy groceries, new cases have continued since it began on June 1 to postpone, with a record 9180 daily cases reported on Friday. The total number of deaths has more than doubled to 5,903 since 1 June.
It is the second national deadlock in the past year and the government said it will remain in place until daily infections fall below 4,000 and at least 10% of the population is vaccinated – but it costs a huge cost and deepens financial difficulties with many companies forced to close and thousands lose their jobs.
The restrictions were tightened in Vietnam
Vietnam also imposed stricter restrictions on Friday, shutting down Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest metropolis and its economic and financial hub, for two weeks. The southern city’s 9 million inhabitants are only allowed to leave home to buy food, medicine and for other urgent matters during that time.
Vietnam was able to limit its total cases of coronavirus to 2,800 during the first year of the pandemic and reported almost no new cases in the three months to the end of April when they began to climb rapidly. In the last two months, the country has registered about 22,000 new cases, and the less stringent restrictions introduced so far have not been able to stop the rise.
“It is a difficult decision to lock down the city, but it is necessary to curb the pandemic and return to normalcy,” said Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh during a cabinet meeting on Thursday night.
Currently, about 4% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, although the Ministry of Health said it hopes to inoculate 70% of the country’s 96 million people by the end of the year.
An exception to the regional rule seems to be India, where the delta variant was first discovered – perhaps because its rise came first. The country has slowly emerged from a traumatic April and May, when a devastating increase in infections tore through the nation, hospitals ran out of beds and oxygen supplies, and overwhelmed crematoria were forced to burn bodies in pyres outdoors.
New cases and deaths are now declining, but with less than 5% of the country’s eligible population fully vaccinated, the authorities are trying to spread more shots and are investing heavily in field hospitals and ICU beds and storing oxygen supplies.
Japan and Australia also announced new restrictions this week. Japan is being monitored in particular because its state of emergency means that spectators will be banned from most arenas during the upcoming Olympics.
With the discovery of the Delta variant last month in Australia’s New South Wales, Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday that this is now the “scariest period” of the pandemic yet when she announced new restrictions in Sydney after the city reported 44 new cases, in is in line with the country’s strategy to move quickly with targeted measures to eradicate new outbreaks.
“New South Wales is facing the biggest challenge we have faced since the start of the pandemic,” she said. “And I do not say it easily.”