The region as a whole reported more than 28,000 cases on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Collectively, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore account for 87.9% of the total number of cases reported in Southeast Asia, according to the data.
While the region’s count is still far from the hundreds of thousands seen in the United States and some European countries, several studies suggest that tens of thousands of other infections may go undetected due to low screening rates in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.
Meanwhile in Singapore, cases have increased dramatically in the past two weeks, with new clusters of infections found among migrant workers living in crowded dormitories – even though the government has managed the outbreak. at one point hailed internationally as a model for others to follow.
“The fact is that … cases have multiplied here in Southeast Asia,” Simon Tay, president of the think tank Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told CNBC “Squawk Box Asia” last week.
Tay said governments must act quickly to contain the epidemic. ” We need to act. The test numbers in the Philippines, the test numbers in Indonesia are way too low, “he added.
Variable test capacity
But experts have mostly identified Indonesia and the Philippines as countries of concern because of their large populations.
Indonesia, which has the world’s fourth largest population of more than 270 million, has conducted around 42,000 tests in total, Worldometer reported. That equates to 154 tests per million people – one of the lowest in the world, according to the site.
Indonesian authorities have said they aim to perform 10,000 tests a day and predict that infections could reach 95,000 as the tests escalate, Reuters reported.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte last week approved the purchase of 900,000 additional test kits – in addition to 100,000 already in use, reported Reuters. The government has put in place strict blocking measures, but said its own modeling indicated that 75% of the infections – roughly 15,000 people – had gone undetected, the report said.
Infections could increase in Indonesia
Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, reported its first case of Covid-19 in early March – a move that surprised many observers given the country’s extensive air links with the China and the city of Wuhan, where the virus first appeared.
In contrast, neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia began to identify cases as early as January – several infected people developing symptoms after their visit to Indonesia.
In addition to being late in testing, the government led by President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – has been criticized for failing to put in place a national ban and banning domestic travel. However, the president has authorized local authorities in the capital Jakarta and other regions to implement foreclosure measures.
“It seems that Jokowi has given priority to preserving the economy rather than preventing the spread of the virus because he fears that its legitimacy and power will be threatened,” wrote Bradley Wood, researcher at Australian National University Strategic and Defense Studies Center. in a report earlier this month.
Millions of Indonesians generally travel across the country to return to their hometowns and villages at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends with big parties and celebrations with family and friends. This could lead to a million infections by July in Java, the country’s most populous island and home to the capital Jakarta, Reuters reported, citing a new model produced by the Faculty of Public Health at the University of Indonesia.
Reuters reported last week that Doni Monardo, who heads the Indonesian Covid-19 task force, said that only the unemployed would be allowed to travel and that they would be quarantined for 14 days. He said they were more likely to stay well outside the cities, the report said.
Woodpecker in Singapore cases
In Singapore, new daily cases have reached record levels several times in the past week despite quarantine measures and the government’s stringent screening process – highlighting the challenges authorities face in containing the coronavirus.
The country was one of the first outside China to report cases of Covid-19 and kept the number of infections relatively low, allowing schools and businesses to remain open until the start of the month. .
Most of the new cases that have recently surfaced have involved migrant workers, many of whom are South Asian men working in construction.
Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore, said “it is a little embarrassing” that the rise in cases involving foreign migrant workers came when the government managed to control the number imported cases and community transmissions.
“We have checked the arrivals (cases) of foreign patients who return. Within the local community, the numbers have somewhat controlled, “he told CNBC” Squawk Box Asia “last week.
“But for foreign workers who (live) in dormitories, we really have a big problem to control there,” he added.