Corona restrictions reimposed in Asia

20 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

TAIPEI: Taxi drivers are starved for customers, weddings are suddenly canceled, schools are closed, and restaurant service is restricted across much of Asia as the coronavirus makes a resurgence in countries where it had seemed to be well under control, reports AP.

Sparsely populated Mongolia has seen its death toll soar from 15 to 233, while Taiwan, considered a major success in battling the virus, has recorded more than 1,000 cases since last week and placed over 600,000 people in two-week medical isolation.

Hong Kong and Singapore have postponed a quarantine-free travel bubble for a second time after an outbreak in Singapore of uncertain origin. China, which has all but stamped out local infections, has seen new cases apparently linked to contact with people arriving from abroad.

The resurgence hasn’t come close to the carnage wrought in India and parts of Europe, but it is a keen reminder that the virus remains resilient, despite mask mandates, case tracing, mass testing and wider deployment of the newest weapon against it — vaccinations.

In Taiwan, the surge is being driven by the more easily transmissible variant first identified in Britain, according to Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist and the island’s former vice president, who led the highly praised pandemic response last year.

Malaysia unexpectedly imposed a one-month lockdown through June 7, spooked by a sharp rise in cases, more-infectious variants and weak public compliance with health measures.

It was the second nationwide lockdown in just over a year and came after the country’s cases shot up fourfold since January; it’s now more than 479,000 and 1,994 people have died, a sum also up by four times from January. Interstate travel and social activities are banned, schools are shut, and restaurants can provide only takeout service. The government has warned that hospitals have almost maxed out their capacity to take new coronavirus cases.

Singapore has imposed stringent social distancing measures until June 13, restricting public gatherings to two people and banning dine-in service at restaurants.

That came after the number of coronavirus infections of untraceable origin rose to 48 cases in the past week, from 10 cases the week before. Singapore had previously been held up as a role model after keeping the virus at bay for months.

Hong Kong has responded to fresh outbreaks by increasing the quarantine requirement from 14 to 21 days for unvaccinated travelers arriving from “high-risk” countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, and, farther afield, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands and Kenya.

Thailand reported 35 deaths, the highest since the outbreak started, on Tuesday, and an additional 29 on Wednesday. That brought its number of fatalities to 678, of which 584 have been reported in the latest wave. About three-quarters of Thailand’s more than 116,000 cases have been recorded since the beginning of April.

Thailand had about 7,100 cases in all of last year in what was regarded as a success story.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has eased a lockdown in the bustling capital and adjacent provinces to fight economic recession and hunger but has still barred public gatherings this month, when many Roman Catholic festivals are held.

COVID-19 infections started to spike in March to some of the worst levels in Asia, surging beyond 10,000 a day and prompting Duterte to impose the lockdown in and around Manila in April. The Philippines has reported more than 1.1 million infections with 19,372 deaths, though the surge has begun to ease.