Coronavirus variants trigger new lockdowns in Asia – fr

Coronavirus variants trigger new lockdowns in Asia – fr

As much of the world moves beyond the pandemic, Taiwan, which for so long had held the virus at bay, is bewildered by scenes countries have long forgotten: listless streets, closed shops, a running on toilet paper and incalculable empty seats in the subways.
Taiwan’s sudden reversal of status mirrors the setbacks unfolding across Asia. The nations that have been lauded and often envied for the way they controlled COVID-19 – by keeping the death toll low and allowing millions of people to work, go to school and have dinner there outdoors – are now plagued by new lockdowns, shrinking hospital beds and increasing fatigue as the pandemic continues. .

This feeling of defeat is here most profound. For the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19, Taiwan has imposed strict lockdown measures to stop a virus that has killed more than 3.3 million people worldwide. The autonomous island reported several hundred infections last week after months without any. All public spaces such as cinemas, libraries and recreation centers have been closed, and public schools will remain closed at least until the end of the month.

These actions occur as the virus and its variants erupt across the region. Cases are skyrocketing in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for the first time and are returning in numbers not seen for months in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, under pressure from workers in the health and business leaders to cancel the Summer Olympics for July in Tokyo.

Protester holds banner during protest against Tokyo Olympics

(Cezary Kowalski / Getty Images)

Largely due to the surge in cases in India, which has become the epicenter of the latest wave, over 60% of the 10 million new cases recorded globally in the first half of May were in Asia, according to the latest figures from Our world in data project at the University of Oxford.

The new COVID-19 outbreaks underscore the long road ahead for a global recovery, even as countries like the United States begin to reopen. They also highlight the limitations of border controls, which have been rolled out across Asia and relaxed in the United States and Europe.

“It’s a pandemic,” said Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert at the National University of Singapore. “The borders will eventually give way. It is statistically inevitable. “

Social restrictions and public health measures are being tested, especially as more infectious variants of the coronavirus emerge from major hot spots such as India. Fisher said the only way to stem the new threats – and achieve herd immunity – is to vaccinate populations: “The end game requires high levels of vaccination to deal with what will be an endemic disease and may -be seasonal. ”

A medical worker checks the vital signs of a migrant worker last month in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

(Tang Chhin Sothy / Getty Images)

But the vast majority of vaccines have gone to richer countries, including the United States and those in Europe. Far fewer doses were delivered to poorer countries like Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines. Leaving millions of unvaccinated people in dense urban centers with weak health systems provides ideal conditions for the variants to mutate and prolong the pandemic, experts say.

Relatives of a person who died of COVID-19 mourn in a crematorium last month in Kathmandu, Nepal.

(Niranjan Shrestha / Associated Press)

The increase in the number of cases in Southeast and East Asia following massive outbreaks in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives underlines the speed with which new variants are spreading, said Abhishek Rimal, Emergency Health Coordinator for Asia-Pacific at the International Federation of the Red Cross. and Red Crescent societies.

“The world must realize that no one is safe until everyone is safe,” said Rimal from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, which entered its third lockdown last month. “At this point the United States looks fine, but if one variant mutates, it will eventually reach the United States. This is the cycle of a pandemic. You need to make sure everyone is safe. That is why we need a fair distribution of vaccines. “

It’s not just poor countries in Asia that are struggling to get doses. Middle-income countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have lower single digit vaccination rates. Even a wealthy country like Japan, which is experiencing a fourth wave of infections, has failed to deliver injections at rates close to other countries with similar economic conditions.

Commuters get out of a train
Commuters exit a train on May 6 in Tokyo.

(Shinji Kita / Associated Press)

Less than 3% of Japan’s population of 126 million have been fully immunized in a program besieged by accusations of mismanagement, line-breaking and a poorly designed reservation system.

Hiroko Fukushima, a 79-year-old woman who lives alone in Japan’s Ehime Prefecture, desperately wanted to be vaccinated so that her youngest daughter could safely visit her to celebrate the seventh anniversary of her husband’s death. Despite calling more than 150 times in five days, Fukushima was unable to secure an appointment for the vaccination. Her eldest daughter finally got one for June.

“None of my neighbors have been vaccinated so far,” Fukushima said. “Many of them live alone and have no children to help them.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced last week that Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima would join six prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, already under states of emergency until the end of the month. Three other prefectures were listed as being in “quasi-emergency”. Together, the measures place restrictions on around 70% of the Japanese population.

Hospitals are struggling to cope. In Osaka, where the volume of weekly infections is the highest in the country, intensive care beds are almost full. Between 15,000 and 17,000 patients are said to be left without medical care and the governor of Osaka has warned that death rates could continue to rise.

Last week, a union of hospital doctors in Japan said the Olympics should be called off because the games risk circulating potentially vaccine-resistant variants. The Games will be closed to foreign spectators.

Japanese business leaders have echoed these concerns. Billionaire founder and CEO of consumer electronics giant Rakuten has called running the games a “suicide mission.”

While the epidemic in Japan has been building up for months, that in Singapore is only just beginning. Three weeks ago, the wealthy city-state topped Bloomberg’s “Covid Resilience” ranking as the best place to be during the pandemic, not least because life has remained largely untouched.

People are sitting in a vaccination clinic
People wait to receive COVID-19 vaccines on Monday in Bangkok, Thailand.

(Anuthep Cheysakron / Associated Press)

Since then, the Southeast Asian nation of 5.8 million people has seen a sharp increase in cases, prompting the government to order lockdown measures on Sunday for the first time in nearly a year. The reversal marks a blow to Singapore, which has vaccinated a fifth of its population and imposed border controls, deploying so-called secure distance ambassadors and mandating a contact tracing app.

Officials say the latest wave was triggered by the arrival of Singaporean citizens and longtime residents of India.

Singapore, a major travel hub, was to report that it was slowly coming back by hosting the World Economic Forum in August, an annual meeting usually held in Davos, Switzerland. But organizers said on Monday that the event would be postponed until next year at an undetermined location due to “uncertain travel prospects, different speeds of vaccination rollouts and uncertainty surrounding new variants.”

Global health experts say vaccine reluctance can be high in areas with low cases and deaths. Until last week, that described Taiwan, which captured the world’s attention last year for spending more than 200 consecutive days without a local infection.

Workers in protective gear carry a body on a stretcher
Nepalese army personnel carry the body of a COVID-19 victim before cremation in Kathmandu, Nepal.

(Getty Images)

The territory recorded a record 333 cases on Monday after announcing 206 and 180 the previous two days. The government has said it will impose tougher measures if daily cases continue to exceed 100. The outbreak is linked to several groups, including an arcade, an airport hotel and an accused former Lions Club leader. to flout the rules of the mask.

News of the lockout on Saturday caused panic in supermarket purchases. The shelves quickly emptied of toilet paper, masks and disinfectant as early as Monday morning, even after President Tsai Ing-wen urged people to avoid hoarding.

“I felt panic when I heard the announcement… and I rushed to the supermarket to buy supplies,” said Ruby Liu, 31, who works for a magazine editor in Taipei. “However, I gave up when I saw the long lines.

Times editor Pierson reported from Singapore and special correspondents Jennings from Taipei and Lowry from Tokyo.


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