FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao
When we were about to think that we have conquered the coronavirus with vaccine rollouts, we are now being confronted by the new highly-contagious Delta variant, bringing us back to square one in our biggest battle against an unseen enemy.
The U.S., which has the most ambitious vaccination program on earth because the country manufactures the leading anti-Covid vaccines, is now seeing some 100,000 new daily cases. And more deaths are being added to its 600,000 tally which is the highest in the world.
The Delta variant originated in India in December 2020 and spread like wildfire to other countries.
According to wire reports, all countries in Southeast Asia, China, Japan and South Korea are now seeing growing outbreaks with more daily cases and deaths.
The reports said that Southeast Asian nations that managed to contain outbreaks last year are now struggling with overwhelmed health services, a lack of hospital beds, equipment, and oxygen. They have also reimposed lockdowns, shuttering factories in crucial manufacturing hubs and restricting the movement of citizens already suffering financially.
Frustration among citizens forced to endure yet more curbs on their freedoms and ability to work are reaching boiling point, and protests against their governments’ handling of the outbreaks have broken out in Malaysia and Thailand. Comparatively, Vietnam has fully vaccinated less than 1% of its population, Thailand around 5%, the Philippines 7.2%, and virus epicenter Indonesia 7.6%, according to Our World in Data.
For the past year and a half, Vietnam was able to live a relatively normal life and the economy actually grew by 2.9% in 2020, according to the World Bank. But since late April, Vietnam has reported a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections and the government has imposed lockdowns in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to try and curb further spread of Covid cases.
The world’s fourth most populous nation, Indonesia, recently overtook India as Asia’s Covid epicenter, and the outbreak has seen devastating with a high of more than 50,000 cases a day. Of its 354 million reported cases since the pandemic began, 1.2 million were recorded in the past month.
Despite a national lockdown, Malaysia has also seen an exponential rise in cases and deaths, with the outbreak forcing a month-long suspension of parliament. Anger among the people is mounting. Hundreds broke coronavirus restrictions to protest in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, against the government’s handling of the outbreak and called on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to resign.
In the Philippines the Duterte government has imposed a two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), supposedly the strictest form of quarantine, from August 6 to 20, but this is an ersatz lockdown because people are still in the streets, means of transport are still operating and shops are still open although with some restrictions.
Despite the dire financial situation, the government was forced to give cash assistance to those affected by the lockdown mostly in depressed communities. Daily cases in the country have now surpassed the 10,000 mark and could rise farther.
There is a possibility that if the situation worsens, the ECQ could be extended for two more weeks, a move frowned upon by our economic managers who are already complaining about the havoc brought about by the lockdown on the economy.