People in much of the Asia Pacific are facing punishing lockdowns as the spread of the Delta variant exposes the region’s vulnerabilities despite its success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic last year.
South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam are the latest to announce strict social distancing measures, amid steep climbs in cases.
Part of the problem is the Delta Variant that first originated in India and is significantly more transmissible, but sluggish vaccination programmes – mostly the result of a lack of supply, have also left millions of people vulnerable to infection. Worse, studies suggest that a single dose of vaccines that require two doses is less effective against the strain.
In some countries, the health system is already being pushed to breaking point.
Dr Dale Fisher, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the National University of Singapore, said many countries in the region were being “sorely tested” by the latest outbreaks.
Authorities in Sydney yesterday announced the biggest jump in cases in the city this year and tightened restrictions that have been in place since June 26.
Officials also warned that the lockdown could well be extended beyond July 16.
“New South Wales is facing the biggest challenge we have faced since the pandemic started,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state, told reporters in Sydney.
The outbreak in Australia’s biggest city began in the middle of June with a driver for overseas aircrews and was centred around the beach suburb of Bondi and has now grown to more than 400 people.
Health officials said some people picked up the virus after having only “fleeting” contact with someone later diagnosed with COVID-19.
The city is urging people to get tested, but has come under fire over the slow pace of its vaccine rollout. Only about 9 percent of people in NSW have been vaccinated, according to Berejiklian who acknowledged the concerns yesterday.
“What we are missing at the moment is the doses,” she said. “They are coming in mid to late September in terms of the large-scale supply, but until that time we have to be conscious that we will have lower rates of vaccination.”
The sudden outbreak has also created more heartache for the thousands of Australians wanting to return home but forced to wait because of limited spaces in compulsory mandatory quarantine. The number of places available has been halved.
Cambodia has all but escaped COVID-19 last year, but it has been unable to tame an outbreak that began in late February after a failure in the country’s hotel quarantine system.
Cases and deaths have reached record highs in the past week, with 954 cases and 27 deaths reported on Thursday.
With help from China, Cambodia has made the most progress in vaccination among Southeast Asian nations, a third of people have had both doses of the vaccine, according to the World Health Organization.
Cambodia has a population of about 16 million.
Indonesia has had little respite from the virus since the pandemic first began.
Now the Delta variant is ripping through the archipelago leaving hospitals overwhelmed and patients searching desperately for oxygen supplies.
The country reported 38,391 cases on Thursday, six times the number a month earlier. The daily death toll has also surged, doubling in little more than a week.
Indonesia was one of the countries that took part in late-stage trials for China’s Sinovac vaccine and began its mass vaccination programme in February. It has so far administered 48.5 million doses but only 5.3 percent of the population is fully covered, according to Our World in Data.
The Tokyo Olympics was delayed by a year but it has still been outrun by the coronavirus.
On Thursday, the Japanese government announced a state of emergency in the capital that would remain in force throughout the period of the games.
“Taking into consideration the impact of the Delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.
Organisers also announced that even having a limited number of local spectators would be too risky given the spread of the virus and that no fans would be allowed into venues to watch the events.
Little more than 15 percent of the country’s population have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
A year ago, Malaysia was reporting zero locally transmitted cases.
The government even felt confident enough to publish a book detailing its pandemic response.
But cases began to rise after an election in the state of Sabah in September and have surged since January even after the declaration of an “emergency” to tackle the pandemic that led to the suspension of parliament.
A “total lockdown total was imposed from the beginning of June.
On Thursday, Malaysia reported 8,868 cases and a record 135 deaths, amid growing anger at the government. On Friday, cases soared to 9,180, the highest since the start of the pandemic.
The surge has overwhelmed many hospitals, particularly in Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding state of Selangor. On Thursday, the health ministry said it would deploy more medical resources to the areas and consider setting up field hospitals.