COVID-19 Variant Pushes Asian Nations into Lockdowns, Indonesia Stares at Potential ‘Catastrophe’

Tria Dianti and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Jakarta and Bangkok
2021-06-29
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COVID-19 Variant Pushes Asian Nations into Lockdowns, Indonesia Stares at Potential ‘Catastrophe’ Medical personnel tend to COVID-19 patients in a tent set up outside a hospital in Bogor on June 29, 2021, as infections soar in Indonesia.
[AFP]

The more contagious and deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus is cutting a swathe across Southeast Asia and Bangladesh, with the Red Cross saying on Tuesday that Indonesia is heading toward “a COVID-19 catastrophe.”

The Delta variant drove transmissions in Indonesia, Thailand’s capital Bangkok, and Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, while the Malaysian government indefinitely extended its latest lockdown to stem the spread of the highly infective strain.

“Every day we are seeing this Delta variant driving Indonesia closer to the edge of a COVID-19 catastrophe,” said Jan Gelfand, the Indonesia head of Red Cross, in a statement.

“We must focus on getting vaccinations into the arms of those most at-risk and all adults everywhere to contain this virus.”

In Bangladesh, officials said the Delta variant, first detected across the border in India, and the lack of COVID-19 vaccines were the cause for surging infections.

Global action is needed to give Indonesia and other countries access to more vaccines as soon as possible, Gelfand said.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Health said the Delta variant had been found in at least nine provinces, including Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, Bali and South Sumatra.

Its national COVID-19 task force reported 20,467 new cases on Tuesday, the third-highest daily number since the pandemic began and bringing the total number of COVID-19 infected people to more than 2.1 million. With 463 virus-related deaths Tuesday, pandemic fatalities rose to 58,024.

Almost 139,000 new cases and 2,733 virus-related deaths were reported between June 23 and 28 alone.

The variant, combined with travel during the Eid holiday, was the cause of this latest spike, said Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a health ministry official and spokeswoman for the coronavirus vaccination drive.

“This variant spreads six times faster, while people’s mobility was very high during Ramadan and Eid, plus people are lax in implementing health protocols,” Nadia told BenarNews.

The International Red Cross also warned that the deadly Delta variant was overwhelming hospitals and oxygen supplies, especially in Jakarta and other cities. 

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Australia’s Griffith University, said the government needed to impose large-scale social restrictions, calling them the only way to prevent a potential COVID-19 catastrophe.

“If the government wants to prevent more victims, there is no other choice than a lockdown,” Dicky told BenarNews.

Indonesia last week announced some restrictions, but services such as public utility companies, supermarkets and pharmacies were allowed to operate at full capacity under strengthened health protocols.

Lockdowns

Neighboring Malaysia, meanwhile, decided to indefinitely extend an ongoing near-total lockdown that was scheduled to end on Monday, as new COVID-19 infections had not fallen to below 4,000 a day.

The government also said on Monday it planned to allocate 400 million ringgit (about U.S. $100 million) to acquire vaccines needed to inoculate 6.4 million young people as part of a new 150 billion ringgit ($36 billion) coronavirus relief package unveiled by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. 

Malaysia reported 6,437 new infections on Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 745,703. With 107 virus-related deaths, the pandemic death toll rose to 5,108.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Thai government shut more than 500 construction sites in Bangkok, its five adjoining provinces and four provinces in the Deep South region for a month, starting Monday, to curb infections among Myanmar and Cambodian workers.

“Too many of them contracted the coronavirus,” Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said on Monday.    

Close to 100,000 foreign workers, including those in food processing factories in Songkhla and Pattani in the Deep South, were infected, according to the ministry of labor and welfare. 

Bangkok has the largest cluster of people infected by the Delta variant, with 331 new infections from the strain recorded last week alone, the Department of Medical Science said on Monday, according to the Bangkok Post.

While there are fewer Delta variant cases in other provinces, they are rising there as well, the department said. Nationwide, the department said Delta strain infections had risen to 12.3 percent from 9.76 percent in April.

Thailand on Tuesday reported 4,662 new COVID-19 infections, taking the total caseload to more than 254,000. With 36 virus-related deaths, the pandemic death toll rose to 1,970.

In South Asia, Bangladesh on Sunday recorded 119 COVID-19 deaths, the highest since the pandemic began, ahead of a near-total seven-day lockdown scheduled to start on Thursday. A less severe lockdown began on Monday.

The government plans to deploy troops to help ensure no one flouts restrictions. Interstate buses and trains were halted last week, and starting Thursday only the most essential service will be allowed to stay open.

More than two-thirds of new virus infections in Bangladesh’s capital were from the Delta variant, the Dhaka-based International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research reported on June 17.

Meanwhile, the United States announced it was giving 2.5 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to Bangladesh through the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, Washington’s envoy in Dhaka said on Saturday. A shipment is on the way, according to Agence France-Presse.

Washington has put Bangladesh on an urgent list for the White House’s delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, an unnamed White House official told AFP.

Bangladesh “has a 55 percent week-over-week increase in cases, driven largely by the Delta variant,” the official said.

Bangladesh reported more than 7,600 new infections on Tuesday bringing total infections to 904,436 since the pandemic began. With 112 COVID-19 deaths, the overall toll is 14,388.

Hadi Azmi and Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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