Nations ranging from Laos to Thailand in Southeast Asia and those bordering India such as Bhutan and Nepal have reported significant increases in infections in the last few weeks. The increase is primarily due to more contagious virus variants, although complacency and lack of resources to contain the spread have also been cited as causes.
In Laos last week, the health minister sought medical equipment, supplies and treatment as cases jumped more than 200 times in a month. Nepal sees hospitals quickly fill up and run out of oxygen supply. Health facilities are under pressure in Thailand, where 98% of new cases come from a more contagious strain of the pathogen, while some Pacific island nations are facing their first Covid waves.
Although nowhere near the population of India or the flare-up in extent, the reported peaks in these handful of nations have been far steeper, signaling the potential dangers of an uncontrolled spread. The resurgence ̵
“It is very important to realize that the situation in India can happen anywhere,” said Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization for Europe, during a briefing last week. “This is still a huge challenge.”
Rated by the change in recently recorded infections in the last month during the previous month, Laos first came up with a 22,000% increase followed by Nepal and Thailand, both of which saw fresh caseload skyrocketed more than 1,000% over a month-over -month basis.
Also at the top of the list are Bhutan, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Cambodia and Fiji, as they witnessed the epidemic break out at a high three-digit rate.
“All countries are at risk,” said David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “The disease appears to be endemic and therefore likely to remain a risk for all countries for the foreseeable future.”
On May 1, India reported a record high of 401,993 new cases within the previous 24 hours, while deaths touched a new high of 3,689 the following day. The nation’s hospitals and crematoria are working overtime to cope with the sick and the growing number of deaths. Along with the crisis, health facilities are also facing a shortage of medical oxygen that is unable to treat distressed patients with coronavirus-infected lungs gasping for air at their doorstep.
The sudden eruption in Laos – a place that recorded only 60 cases since the pandemic started until April 20 and so far has not died – shows the challenges facing some of the frozen nations. Porous borders make it harder to squeeze in on illegal crossings, even though entry is technically prohibited.
Communist-ruled Laos has ordered lockdowns in the capital Vientiane and banned travel between the capital and the provinces. The health minister reached out to neighbors like Vietnam for help with life-saving resources. Nepal and Bhutan have seen cases of outbreaks, partly due to returning nationals. Nepal, which has identified cases of the new Indian variant, has limited resources to fight the virus.
The situation is “very serious,” according to Ali Mokdad, Chief Strategy Officer for Population Health at the University of Washington. “New variants will require a new vaccine and a booster for those who have already been vaccinated – they will delay the control of the pandemic.”
Mokdad said the economic difficulties in poorer countries are making the fight even tougher.
Thailand, which had tried to revive its ailing tourism industry, just reintroduced a two-week mandatory quarantine for all visitors. A government forecast for 2021 tourism revenue was cut down to 170 billion baht ($ 5.4 billion) From January expectations to 260 billion baht. With the country’s public health system under pressure, authorities are trying to set up field hospitals to accommodate a stream of patients.
About 98% of cases in Thailand are of the variant first identified in the UK based on a sample of 500 people, according to Yong Poovorawan, head of the Center of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University.
Since the start of the current outbreak, more than 10,000 locally acquired cases have been detected in Cambodia in more than 20 provinces. The Cambodian capital Phnom Penh is now a “red zone” or high-risk outbreak area. In Sri Lanka, the island nation at the southern tip of India, authorities have isolated areas, banned weddings and meetings and closed cinemas and pubs to cover a record rise after last month’s local New Year’s celebrations. The government says the situation is under control.
Across the oceans of the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago announced a partial shutdown after the country’s daily business hit record highs and closed restaurants, shopping malls and cinemas until the end of May. The number of cases in the last month is about 700% more than the previous month.
The high rise level is also seen in Suriname, on the northeast coast of South America. Cases in April increased by over 600% from March.
After being relatively Covid-free thanks to strict border controls, some of the islands in the Pacific are now seeing their first wave. Cities in Fiji’s tourist hotspot have come to a standstill after the community got the virus from the military to a greater extent.
“The recent rise in registered cases across the Pacific reveals how critical it is to not only rely on strong borders, but actually get vaccines for these countries,” said Jonathan Pryke, head of research at the Pacific region of the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based thinktank. “India is a shocking warning to this part of the world about how quickly this pandemic can get out of control.”
There is a duty for developed countries recovering from the pandemic thanks to rapid vaccinations to contribute to a fairer global distribution of vaccines, diagnostic tests and therapeutic agents, including oxygen, according to Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
“The developed world can and should contribute funding while sharing with other countries any excess vaccines they may have in stock,” he said.
This story has been published from a cable agency feed without any changes to the text. Only the heading has been changed.