Southeast Asian countries struggle to contain devastating third wave of COVID-19

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A devastating third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is hitting several countries in Southeast Asia as the delta variant takes hold in the region, leading to record levels of infections and deaths.

Countries in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam, Laos and Thailand had already avoided such large-scale epidemics. Now they are struggling to contain new epidemics, even as Indonesia and Myanmar grapple with low vaccination rates, limited oxygen supplies and overcrowded hospitals. Health care experts say the health systems in both countries are on the verge of collapse.

Indonesian epidemiologist Dicky Budiman of Griffith University in Australia told NPR why so many countries in the region are currently facing high levels of infection.

“Our testing capacity is still low compared to the scale of the pandemic. And the second is the vaccination rate – not only low but slow,” Budiman said.

Many countries in Southeast Asia have taken advantage of China’s largesse to make its Sinovac vaccine available relatively early in the pandemic. Now, however, with many vaccinated healthcare workers falling ill, these same countries are starting to question the effectiveness of Sinovac, even as they struggle to import more from the United States and Europe. .

Indonesia becomes world leader in new infections

Indonesia reported 73,582 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 2.8 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic on Sunday. For much of the past week, the country has seen a steady rise in infections, overtaking India and Brazil as the world leader in new infection rates.

Indonesian epidemiologists say the actual number of cases is likely even higher. Many expect the situation to get worse.

Citizens report desperate searches for oxygen for loved ones or beds in a hospital. An increasing number of health workers are also dying from COVID-19.

According to the Mitigation Team of the Indonesian Medical Association, a network of doctors known as IDI, 114 doctors have died so far this month, twice as many as those who died in June, according to Voice of America. A total of 545 doctors in Indonesia, according to the IDI, have died since the start of the pandemic.

Yet government officials say they are prepared for the “worst-case scenario,” according to The New York Times.

“If we are talking about the worst-case scenario, 60,000 or a little more, all is well,” Luhut Pandjaitan, senior minister responsible for crisis management in Indonesia, told a press conference last week. “We hope it doesn’t reach 100,000, but even so, we are preparing now if we ever do.”

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, told NPR that the worst case would be more than 100,000 cases per day. That’s a number he says could be reached by next month if existing measures to stop transmission of the virus are not stepped up.

Thailand is confined again

Anger at the way Thai authorities handled the pandemic boiled over this weekend.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 protesters marched to the office of Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, asking him to step down due to perceived failures in controlling the pandemic in the country.

According to Reuters, the police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Police said eight policemen were injured and 13 protesters were arrested.

Thailand local time reported 11,784 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday and a cumulative total of 415,170 cases in the country. More than half since April. At least 3,420 people have died, the government reports.

Thirteen provinces in Thailand are stepping up lockdown measures in existing red zones and extending them to several more from July 20 in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. New restrictions are in place until at least August 2.

“The government has stressed the need to alleviate the COVID-19 situation as soon as possible by limiting the movement of people away from their places of residence in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection,” the department said. Thai government public relations officer in a statement. . “It was found that the spread of the disease in Bangkok and its surroundings has become more serious.”

Bangkok and other neighboring areas with existing measures currently in place are included in the expanded order, which includes the closure of shopping malls and other restrictions on restaurants and public transport. The government is also establishing checkpoints to screen for and prevent people who live in areas of strict coronavirus control from traveling to other parts of the country.

Burma struggles after February coup

Political tensions and the military crackdown on dissent following the February 1 military coup have disrupted access to healthcare in neighboring Myanmar as the country faces a devastating increase in COVID cases. 19.

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has warned that the country risks “becoming a super-propagator of Covid-19”, according to Asian times.

Anger at the military and fear of being seen as cooperating with the regime drove many doctors and patients away from military hospitals. Families seek care and oxygen on their own, reports the outlet.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports is reporting more than 229,000 people infected in the country and at least 5,000 deaths from the virus on Sunday, although reports indicate the number could be even higher.

The number of people who have died from the virus has grown so rapidly, according to reports, that crematoriums and funeral homes are struggling to keep up with demand.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.



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