July 9 (Reuters) – After escaping the worst since the coronavirus pandemic broke out last year, Southeast Asia now suffers dramatic increases in deaths and cases, while lack of vaccination and highly contagious variants track containment efforts.
As countries such as Britain, Germany and France prepare to remove most of the remaining restrictions following devastating outbreaks, Southeast Asian governments are tightening measures and hoping targeted lockdowns will act as power outages by arresting record jumps in cases and deaths that began rising in May.
Indonesia, the region’s hardest-hit and most populous country, registered more than 38,000 cases on Friday in a consecutive day, six times the number a month earlier, in a week in which its daily deaths nearly doubled from early July. .
Authorities extended the restrictions to 15 new locations across the archipelago on Friday in hopes of averting the crisis on the island of Java, where hospitals are being pushed to the extreme, oxygen supplies are low and four out of five designated COVID-19 cemeteries in the capital Jakarta is close to full. Read more
A record 9,180 cases were reported on Friday in Malaysia and a similar number in Thailand, with authorities announcing tougher measures in and around the capital Bangkok to curb the spread of the Delta variant, including curfews, curb travel, mall closures and restrictions on gatherings. Read more
Neighboring Myanmar saw 63 deaths and 4,320 new cases on Friday, both record highs, while Cambodia has seen its highest number of cases and deaths in the last nine days.
Health experts say that low test rates in the most populous countries of Indonesia and the Philippines are also likely to hide the full extent of outbreaks, while Myanmar has experienced a collapse in tests since the February coup.
Vietnam’s reputation as a coronavirus success story is threatened with more cases in the last five days than in the first 14 months of the pandemic, although the record 1,625 cases on Friday were a fraction of those in Indonesia. Read more
Panic purchases ahead of Friday’s imposition of movement restrictions in the epicenter of Ho Chi Minh City, while the capital Hanoi has announced measures to isolate itself against outbreaks in other regions of the country of 98 million people. Read more
Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, said the region struggled to cope with the Delta variant and paid for disagreements in strategy, messaging and protocol enforcement.
He cited the need to expand the range of vaccines and noted the dominance of China’s Sinovac (SVA.O) due to its vaccine diplomacy, as Western brands were not available.
“When dealing with the pandemic on a larger scale … vaccines cannot stand alone,” he said. “Vaccines need to be diversified. Resources need to be diversified.”
The immunization rate remains low, with 5.4% of Indonesia’s 270 million inhabitants fully vaccinated, approx. 2.7% of the population of the Philippines and 4.7% of the population of Thailand. Malaysia has vaccinated 9.3% of its 32 million people and has introduced an improved closure of the capital and industrial belt.
Indonesia and Thailand said on Friday that booster shots of mRNA vaccines would be administered to health workers – most of whom received Chinese vaccines like Sinovac – amid concerns about their resistance to variants. Read more
Thailand said the shot from Pfizer (PFE.N) and BioNTech (22UAy.DE) would be given to its medical workers, while Indonesia said Moderna (MRNA.O) vaccines would soon arrive for use among healthcare professionals.
With an exacerbated outbreak and concerns over the efficacy of vaccines offered locally, appetite has grown rapidly in Thailand for mRNA vaccines that are not available until the end of the year.
A Thai hospital on Friday said booking slots were sold for 1,800 shots of Moderna’s vaccine in minutes after offering it on e-commerce platform Shopee. Read more
Singapore is among the few bright spots where authorities will soon have to ease restrictions imposed when the Delta variant was discovered and complete the immunization of half the population later this month. Read more
Alex Cook of the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said the city-state was an exception with its neighbors far behind.
“This demonstrates the need to double global efforts for fair vaccine deployment to ensure that people at higher risk in lower-income countries can also be protected,” he said.
Additional reporting from Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Clip by Ed Davies & Simon Cameron-Moore
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