COVID-19 Deaths Set Records, Infections Rise Sharply in Some Southeast Asian Nations

BenarNews staff
Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka
COVID-19 Deaths Set Records, Infections Rise Sharply in Some Southeast Asian Nations A Thai health worker sprays a Buddhist monk with disinfectant at a temple in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, May 5, 2021.

COVID-19 cases are rising in some Southeast Asian nations, as Malaysia and Thailand on Wednesday reported record high virus-related deaths amid the spread of highly contagious variants in the region.

Malaysia on Wednesday logged its highest number of daily new COVID-19 infections since Jan. 31, the Philippines is bracing for a potential surge in cases after the double mutant Indian strain was discovered there a day earlier, and Thailand’s Department of Corrections said almost 3,000 inmates in two prisons tested positive.

“The Department of Corrections tested for COVID-19 among all officials and inmates and found 1,040 infected in the Women's Correctional Institution and 1,795 in the Bangkok Remand Prison,” the department’s press statement said.

Infected inmates have been moved to field hospitals in the prison compound while the more seriously ill patients have been taken to outside hospitals, the department said. They are all being treated with Favipiravir, an anti-viral drug, the department said.

The corrections department said the women’s prison population is nearly 4,500 and that the Bangkok Remand Prison, which is for male inmates only, houses nearly 3,275 prisoners. The plan is to inoculate all prisoners when enough vaccines are procured, the department said.

Vaccines a ‘national agenda’

The corrections department’s statement came hours after pro-democracy activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul said she learned on Wednesday that she tested positive for the coronavirus after being released on bail from the Central Women's Correctional Institution on May 6.

Panusaya said she was tested on May 10, so it was not clear when or where she contracted COVID-19.

“I’ve just received the test result and learned that I’m infected. I’m admitted at Thammasat Hospital,” Panusaya said.

“I apologize to all who had close contact with me. I did not think I was infected.”

On Tuesday evening, Panusaya mingled with reporters and supporters of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, another pro-democracy activist who was released on bail from the Bangkok Remand Prison. 

Meanwhile, Amnesty International Thailand said all prison inmates must be tested for COVID-19 and be given free masks, soap and clean water.

In an open letter to the Thai Permanent Secretary of Justice published Tuesday, Amnesty urged the justice ministry to “minimize any unnecessary custody” so the prisons don’t get too crowded amid the pandemic. The rights group noted that at least seven political prisoners, some of whom have been released on bail, have contracted COVID-19.

Separately, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the government has increased its vaccine acquisition target to 150 million doses, from an earlier planned 100 million doses.

So far, Thailand has administered the first COVID-19 jab to some 1.4 million people. A little more than 72,000 Thais have been fully vaccinated.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday that that he has proposed making COVID-19 vaccines a “national agenda.”

Thailand on Wednesday reported 1,974 new COVID-19 infections, taking the country’s total caseload to 60,044. In addition, a record 34 virus-related deaths were recorded, pushing the total to 1,974.

The previous 24-hour record was 31 deaths on May 3.

Highly contagious variants

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Malaysia logged the highest number of daily new infections since Jan. 31 and a record number of virus-related deaths, government data showed.

“With regard to new cases, 4,765 cases were reported in the last 24 hours and the number of daily cases can reach 5,000 cases by mid-May,” Health Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah said.

“With 39 cases of fatalities recorded today, so far the total number of fatalities in the country rises to 1,761.”

Previously, the highest number of deaths recorded in one day was 26 on May 9.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he expects daily new cases to reach five figures in the next few weeks unless urgent measures are taken to stem the spread of COVID-19, amid the presence of highly infective virus variants from India, the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and other countries.

“At that time, the nation’s entire health care system, which is currently in a critical stage, will be paralyzed like what has happened in other countries,” he said in a message to the nation on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, state news agency Bernama reported.

“People will die lying by the roadside as hospitals will no longer have the capability to take in any more patients.”

Hospital intensive care units nationwide are already struggling, Noor Hisham said.

“The intensive care units are congested after placing 469 patients [nationwide], of whom 244 need assistance to breathe,” he said.

Noor Hisham also said the number of infections from the highly contagious so-called South African variant has risen to 62, from 48 on May 3.

He reported the presence of two infections related to the so-called Indian variant of COVID-19, local media reported.

“The case arrived in Malaysia on April 7, 2021, and went through COVID-19 screening at the international arrival gateway. Both tests conducted on April 7 and April 12 returned negative, Noor Hisham said about the non-Malaysian who was infected.

“However, the case tested positive on April 21 when brought to the emergency and trauma unit after displaying severe COVID19 symptoms. His/her health declined and he/she passed away on May 1.”

On Tuesday, the Philippines announced that two Filipinos who tested positive for the so-called Indian variant last month had recovered.

The Philippines saw a surge in COVID-19 cases in April when the country set a record for daily infections – 15,310 – on April 2.

The Philippines on Wednesday recorded 94 virus-related deaths, taking the pandemic death toll to 18,714. With 4,842 new infections, the total caseload rose to more than 1.11 million.

Next-door neighbor Indonesia continued to record new daily infections in the four-digit range. Southeast Asia’s most populous nation leads all countries in East Asia in cumulative COVID-19 caseloads and related deaths, followed by the Philippines at No. 2.

On Wednesday, Indonesia was fast approaching a death toll of 50,000 from the pandemic as the majority-Muslim nation ended the fasting month of Ramadan. Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries with large Muslim populations have announced bans or movement restrictions on homeward travel for the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month.

Indonesia recorded 4,608 new daily coronavirus infections and 152 new deaths from the pandemic to take its cumulative caseload to 1.7 million cases and 47,617 deaths, according to data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.  

‘Thankful to China’

In South Asia, Bangladesh on Wednesday received 500,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine as a gift from Beijing.

Li Jiming, China’s envoy to Dhaka, handed over the vaccines to Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and Health Minister Zahid Maleque.

“We’re thankful to China. They’ve been very cooperative with us. We look forward to many more vaccine doses from China,” Momen said at the vaccine handover event.

“China has the capacity and competency to produce vaccines on a large scale and there is no doubt that Bangladesh will get more vaccine doses as China agreed. We have very good pharmaceutical companies. By bringing raw materials, we can jointly produce here, which can be beneficial for both the countries.”

Late last month, a Bangladesh cabinet committee approved the production of Chinese Sinopharm and Russian Sputnik V vaccines locally, but no dates were given to begin production. The South Asian nation had to turn to China and Russia after an agreed-upon shipment from India stalled amid a huge rise of COVID-19 cases there.

Envoy Li said Wednesday was a special day, because it was International Nurses Day.

“We picked this day to hand over the gift [of vaccines]. It’s real action taken by the Chinese government to honor the commitment that vaccines will be made a global public good.”

Bangladesh on Wednesday reported 1,140 COVID-19 infections and 40 deaths over the previous 24 hours, bringing the totals nearly 777,397 and nearly 12,045, respectively.

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok, Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur and Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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