09 July 2021
Several countries around Asia and the Pacific Ocean have moved quickly to stop a new increase in coronavirus cases.
The number of infections has risen quickly in recent months in several countries. Officials in Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam announced new measures Friday to slow the spread of the virus.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many Asian countries appeared to have fought the virus successfully after announcing travel restrictions and national shutdowns.
Now, however, the highly contagious delta variant has hit these countries hard. They are setting records for new cases and deaths. The variant, combined with low vaccination rates and a rush to reopen economies, has led to new problems.
While the numbers are high, they are not close to the numbers seen in Europe and the United States last year. But low vaccination rates in many Asian nations may signal problems to come.
Thailand reported a record 75 deaths on Thursday and 72 on Friday. South Korea set a record for the number of new cases on Thursday, only to break it on Friday with 1,316 infections. Those numbers were reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Indonesia also has had an increase in infections that has hospitals turning patients away and oxygen supplies running low.
Of Thailand's confirmed cases and deaths since the pandemic started, more than 90 percent have come since April. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's handling of the crisis has been criticized, including the decision to permit travel for a major holiday in April.
In addition to requiring face coverings and other measures, the government on Friday reduced working hours for public transportation and markets.
"There is something wrong with the government policies, our vaccinations are too slow, and we should get better vaccines," said Cherkarn Rachasevet, a 60-year-old technology worker. She was in a store to buy additional face coverings before the new restrictions took effect. She said she would not get her first vaccination until the end of July.
Across the Asia-Pacific area, the feeling of having successfully fought the pandemic last year led to low vaccination rates. There was little sense of urgency, so production and vaccination efforts fell behind.
Many experts praised South Korea for its actions at the start of the pandemic. It tested citizens quickly and kept information on the sick. Now, as the delta variant spreads, critics say the government pushed to ease social restrictions too quickly. A shortage of vaccines has left 70 percent of the country waiting for their first shot.
Officials in the Seoul area announced Friday that the strongest restrictions yet would start next week. Religious and social centers are closed. Visitors to hospitals and homes for retired people are banned. Private gatherings of more than three people are banned after 6 p.m.
Coronavirus cases and deaths in Indonesia have increased by more than 100 percent over the last two weeks. New restrictions were announced July 3. The islands of Java, Bali, and Sumatra have been hit hard. The health system is under severe pressure.
In Malaysia, the public has been told to stay home since June 1. But new cases continue to increase. The number of deaths has risen 100 percent since June 1.
Vietnam also imposed stronger restrictions on Friday. In Ho Chi Minh City, the country's largest city, people are only permitted to leave home for food or medicine for two weeks.
Vietnam reported almost no new cases for three months. Then, at the end of April as the delta variant spread, the numbers began to climb. In the last two months, the country has recorded 22,000 new cases.
Admitting it was a difficult situation, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said that "it was necessary to curb the pandemic." Only four percent of the population has received at least one injection of the vaccine.
Japan and Australia also announced new restrictions this week. Japan is being watched since its state of emergency means visitors will be banned from events in the upcoming Olympics.
The only country in Asia that appears to be doing well is India, where the delta variant was first found. It had a large increase in cases and deaths in April and May.
New cases and deaths are now decreasing, but only five percent of the country is fully vaccinated.
I'm Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
contagious –adj. able to pass from person to person quickly and easily
variant –n. different in some way from others of the same kind
curb –v. to control or limit something
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