BANGKOK (AP) – Several countries around Asia and the Pacific, experiencing their first major waves of coronavirus, rushed to impose severe restrictions, a year and a half into a pandemic, which many initially did well.
Faced with rapidly rising numbers of infections in recent months, authorities in countries such as Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam announced on Friday that they hope to curb the spread before health systems are overwhelmed.
It is a rhythm known in large parts of the world where repeated waves flooded hospitals and led to a large number of deaths. However, many Asian countries avoided this cycle by introducing rigid travel restrictions combined with harsh measures at home.
Now, some are seeing a record number of new cases and even deaths, partly due to the highly contagious delta variant combined with low vaccination rates and decisions to ease constraints that have hit economies hard. Although the total number is not yet close to those seen during outbreaks in hotspots in Europe and the US, the rapid rise triggered alarm bells, just as many western countries with high vaccination rates began to breathe.
Thailand reported a record number of new deaths on Thursday with 75 ̵
Of Thailand’s 317,506 confirmed cases and 2,534 deaths since the pandemic started, more than 90% have come since the beginning of April.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s handling of the wave 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 on Friday for Bangkok and the surrounding area, including the closure of spas, restrictions on opening hours and restrictions on opening hours for markets and convenience stores.
“There is something wrong with government policies, our vaccinations are too slow, and we should get better vaccines,” said resident Cherkarn Rachasevet, a 60-year-old IT analyst who needed the grocery store to stockpile supplies after hearing new restrictions. wearing four masks and a face shield.
She lamented that she was not due to her first shot until the end of the month.
Across Asia and the Pacific, the rate of immunization has been delayed for a variety of reasons, including production and distribution issues as well as an initial wait-and-see 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 tracking – critics are now blaming a current increase in cases on the government’s push to ease social distance due to economic concerns. Meanwhile, a shortage of vaccine supplies has left 70% of the population still waiting for their first shot.
However, the recent death toll has been low and authorities attribute it to the fact that many who have been vaccinated were at risk of elderly Koreans.
Amid an increase in infections in the Seoul area, authorities announced on Friday that from next week they would impose the strongest restrictions yet. These include bans on private social gatherings of three or more people after noon. 18, closure of nightclubs and churches, ban on visitors to hospitals and nursing homes, and restriction of weddings and funerals to family gatherings.
No country has recently been hit harder in the region than Indonesia. The seven-day rolling average of daily cases and deaths has more than doubled over the past two weeks.
Health experts say a partial shutdown imposed on July 3 was a little too late, warning that the current wave, which is mostly on the islands of Java, Bali and a few towns on the island of Sumatra, will soon begin to spread across the vast archipelago – and the health care system is already succumbing to the pressure.
Despite a strict national lockdown in nearby Malaysia, where residents are confined to their homes, where only one person per Households are allowed to buy groceries, new cases have continued to shoot up since June 1, and a record 9,180 daily cases were reported Friday. The total number of deaths has more than doubled to 5,903 since June 1st.
It is the second national shutdown in the last 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 huge costs and deepens economic difficulties with a number of companies forced to close and thousands losing their jobs.
Vietnam also imposed stricter restrictions on Friday, locking 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 late April, when they began to climb rapidly. In the last two months, the country has registered 22,000 new cases, and the less severe restrictions imposed so far have not been able to stem the rise.
“It is a difficult decision to lock down the city, but it is necessary to slow down the pandemic and return to normalcy,” Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said during a cabinet meeting on Thursday night.
Currently, about 4% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, though the health ministry 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 increase came first. The country is slowly recovering from a traumatic April and May as a devastating rise 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, authorities are struggling to distribute more shots and investing heavily in field hospitals and ICU beds and oxygen supply storage.
Japan and Australia also announced new restrictions this week. Japan is particularly watched as its state of emergency means spectators will be banned from most venues in 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 “scary period” of the pandemic yet, as she announced new restrictions in Sydney after the city reported 44 new cases, in line with the country’s approach to moving rapidly 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 that easily.”
Associated Press writers from across the region contributed to this report.