COVID-19: How Asian countries are dealing with the virus

17 March 2020

By Graeme Acton

This article firs appeared on the Asia Media Centre

How are countries around Asia managing the spread of COVID-19? Graeme Acton from the Asia Media Centre rounds up what's been happening.

CHINA

For the first time since the coronavirus was identified last year, there are now more reported cases outside mainland China than inside, marking a new phase in the development of the global pandemic.

On Monday, China's National Health Commission reported 16 new confirmed cases and 14 deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 80,860, of which more than 67,000 patients have recovered.

Figures released on the same day show industrial production in the country fell by 13.5 percent over January and February.

Retail sales fell by more than 20 percent, combining with a 15 percent slump in manufacturing outputs to signal an unprecedented economic slowdown across the country. Some Chinese firms are reportedly concerned about their on-going ability to do business with global multi-nationals, which may now reduce their purchases of Chinese-made goods in the future.

Meanwhile the Chinese government says around 95 percent of large companies outside the epicentre of the virus in Hubei province have now reopened, while “about 60 percent” of small to medium-sized firms had returned to work.

Travel restrictions in Hubei are now being lifted, allowing thousands of workers back to jobs at factories keen to get production going again.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that cities just outside the epicentre of Wuhan were chartering buses to send back to work residents who had returned home for the Lunar New Year in late January.

Xinhua cited local officials as saying that 750,000 migrant workers alone in the city of Huangguang adjacent to Wuhan have been unable to return to their jobs.

The move comes as Chinese officials say the outbreak that spread from Wuhan starting in December has mostly run its course domestically, while they remain vigilant against imported cases.

However, China still has 9,848 cases still being treated, and a death toll currently running at 3,213.  

SINGAPORE

The city-state’s response to the virus has been described as “gold standard” with Singaporeans told to defer all non-essential travel, and border restrictions tightened to include all ASEAN states.

From midnight Monday travellers - including Singapore citizens and permanent residents entering Singapore with recent travel history to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland or the United Kingdom within the last 14 days - were being issued with a 14 day stay-at-home notice, a measure not yet extended to cover the hundreds of people entering the country from Malaysia by sea and rail every day.

Singapore has seen an increase of over 25 new cases of COVID-19 in the last few days – most of them Singaporeans returning home from overseas.

The latest restrictions come on top of strong measures announced by the Government last week to stop the virus from spreading within the country, including using social distancing as a major line of defence.

There are also recommendations by the health and manpower ministries to have employers adopt telecommuting, and stagger work hours across the week.

VIETNAM

Vietnam is among a number of Asian countries putting up more entry barriers. On Sunday it barred entry to visitors coming from the UK or Europe's Schengen zone in the previous 14 days, adding to earlier mandatory quarantine periods for visitors from high-risk countries like Italy and South Korea.

COVID-19 cases now stand at 49, after the communist government had initially predicted it was over the worst of the disease.

The country has worked fast to contain the epidemic and health authorities have been praised for some immediate measures designed to prevent spread of the disease.

Schools remain shut nationwide. Cinemas, clubs and bars, massage parlours, and online game centres in urban cities are now closed until the end of the month.

Vietnam is currently dealing with 57 active cases of coronavirus, not a single death from the disease has been reported by authorities. 

Early this month, the Health Ministry announced it had licensed production of a locally developed coronavirus test kit that can diagnose the infection in an hour. 

MALAYSIA

Malaysia has been one of the region's better-prepared countries, taking swift action against the first wave of the virus.

The country has announced a total lockdown from March 18, with Prime Minister Muhyidden Yassin confirming all travel in and out of the country will be halted until the end of March at least. All government offices, businesses and schools will be closed between March 18 and 31.

Hospital-based workers have now joined with private sector health providers, allowing Malaysians to have tests in their own homes – for around $NZ270 dollars a test.

The Malaysian Health Ministry's “Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre” provides daily updates to the country.  There are thermal scanners at every entry point, and Malaysia has also placed a blanket ban on the docking of all cruise ships.

On February 27, then interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced a multi-billion dollar financial stimulus package, designed to ward off a looming recession. 

Large organisations are making body temperature checks compulsory for employees, with some going as far as checking individual travel histories. Shopping malls and transport hubs are largely empty outside peak times. 

The country is dealing with over 160 cases of COVID-19, but with no deaths yet reported.   

JAPAN

Health authorities on Sunday confirmed the country has 15 clusters of coronavirus.

The only cluster with 50 or more people infected is in Osaka Prefecture, however clusters of 10 to 49 people are shown in 10 locations, including Hokkaido, where infections spread from a live music bar, Tokyo, where the people gathered for a new year party on a boat, and Aichi Prefecture, south of  Tokyo, where the virus was contracted at a welfare facility and a gym.

Total number of infections is now more than 800, excluding about 700 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 31 people have died from the disease so far.

Japan has the ninth-largest number of infections in the world, behind China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, France, Germany and the United States, according to a Kyodo News.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to insist the Olympic Games will go ahead as planned in July, however he says the final decision rests with the International Olympic Committee

Mr Abe says Japan does not need to declare a national emergency, although parliament approved a bill last week, giving him emergency powers, and allowing him to close schools and ban large gatherings.

The country’s coronavirus emergency has also been mapped by South Korean student Lee Dong Yon. The locations of reported infections are marked with red circles, travel movements of those infected are in blue and the locations of those who have recovered are green. Circles are numbered in the order in which the case was announced by health authorities.

 

THAILAND

Latest media estimates suggest up to a staggering 800,000 people in Thailand’s tourism sector may be impacted by the virus and the virtual halt in visitors to the country. 108 people are being treated for the virus, with just one death reported to date.   

Tourist hot-spots are reportedly deserted. Among big events cancelled is the Songkran water festival, Thailand's traditional New Year held between April 13 and 15 in many provinces, and on popular Khaosan Road in Bangkok.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand last week estimated the financial loss to Thai tourism at 1.5 trillion baht ($NZ52 billion) from the expected loss of about 10 million tourists this year.

Last Tuesday, the Thai Cabinet agreed to assistance measures to affected businesses, ranging from loans with low interest rates to extensions for repayments to further tax reductions. The Thai government held off on direct cash handouts for low-income workers, despite earlier assurances something would be done.

INDONESIA

After an initial period where virtually no coronavirus cases were reported, Indonesia’s health authorities are now moving quickly in an attempt to halt the disease spread across the vast country. Schools are now closed in many cities, and nationwide exams delayed.

The reported number of infected people is now 117, but that number is expected to rise swiftly in the coming days.

Among the ill - Indonesian Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi- hospitalised in Jakarta.

While most confirmed cases have been centred in Jakarta, cases were also reported over the weekend in cities in western and central Java, Manado on Sulawesi island, and Pontianak on Borneo island.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo was forced to admit over the weekend that he initially suppressed information about the spread of the disease in an attempt to prevent public panic.

INDIA

The country’s Ministry of Family & Health Welfare says the total number of cases stands at 114, including 17 foreign nationals, and says the virus has now been detected across 12 states in the country. Two deaths have been reported.

The central and state governments have over the last few days shut down schools, colleges, malls and cinemas, closed most border posts, quarantined international air passengers, and issued advisories asking people to practise social distancing, to slow down the spread of the disease.

India’s lucrative tourism sector is also taking a massive hit, with tourist hotel bookings reportedly close to zero in some parts of the country  

The Indian government has launched rescue operations in both Iran and Italy. 234 Indians stranded in Iran, including 131 students and 103 Muslim pilgrims, where flown out to Delhi from Tehran, while an Air India flight brought back 218 Indians, including 211 students, back from Milan. All returning passengers are now in a 14-day quarantine.

More widely, the Indian government last week announced it would quarantine travellers from the top seven virus-hit nations, and would cancel visas for most incoming visitors until April 15.

Some state governments have also shut down schools, malls and cinemas, while the army has set up special quarantine facilities.

Health authorities fear the devastating impact should local transmission take hold in a country that has a huge population density, lacks adequate sanitation facilities, and relies on poor public health infrastructure.

India's basic anti-virus strategy relies on a countrywide network of doctors, epidemiologists and field workers – working under the “Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme” - to monitor confirmed as well as suspected cases. 

India has a single state-run hospital for every 55,591 people on average, a single hospital bed for every 1,844 people and a shortfall of 500,000 doctors, measured against the World Health Organisation's prescribed norm of one doctor for every 1,000 people.

India’s health system runs as a joint effort between federal and state governments.  The quality of care, therefore, varies greatly, with some states far more resilient in being able to treat multiple cases of COVID-19.

PHILIPPINES

President Rodrigo Duterte stunned residents of the metro Manila area last week with his announcement the whole city – and its over 12 million residents – where to be put in lockdown until April 14.

Details were scant, and the announcement left residents scrambling to prepare for a month of isolation in a city where access to the most basic services can be very hit-and-miss.

Duterte has been in the firing line over his perceived reluctance to respond quickly to the virus, having initially said he did not want to restrict the entry of Chinese nationals to the country.

There are now at least 100 cases in the Philippines, with many more expected in the coming days.

Schools across the capital are closed, mass gatherings banned, and all domestic transport links into the city are now suspended – making Manila the first major Asian city outside China to be quarantined.

But already questions on the effectiveness of the move are being asked: Commuters who can prove they live outside the capital are exempt from the ban, as are business owners, and some government officials. 

MYANMAR

Myanmar shares a porous border with China, but has so far reported no confirmed cases of the virus.

Myanmar’s government has not publicly announced any restrictions, however the British Foreign Office said in a statement that the NLD government has imposed new restrictions for people who have recently visited France, Italy, Iran, Spain the US and Germany.

These travellers will be placed in government-run quarantine facilities for 14 days. Travellers who have been to China or South Korea would be banned from entering the country.  

TAIWAN

Taiwan reported six new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, all imported and marking the biggest daily rise in infections, in people who had returned to the island from countries including Spain and Japan.

Its total number of cases stands at 59.

While Taiwan has won plaudits from international experts for its early prevention measures to stop the spread of the disease – and is now moving to prevent it entering via transport links

Taiwan has only reported one death from the virus, while 20 have recovered and been released from hospital. The other cases are all in stable condition.

SOUTH KOREA

Coronavirus infections are currently running at 8,200, with 75 deaths.

New infection rates have been slowly subsiding, with more people discharged from hospitals than being admitted.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control ( KCDC) says the virus has preyed on the elderly and already sick people, with 70.6 percent of deaths in patients in their 70s and above. Another 18.7 percent of fatalities were in their 60s.

No death from a virus patient younger than 29 has been reported.

HONG KONG

Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection says there are now 155 coronavirus cases being treated, with many of a batch of new cases this week involving locals returning from overseas trips to Europe, Japan, and the Middle East.

Hong Kong has seen an increasing number of imported Covid-19 cases recently, and health authorities expect the number will further grow in the coming days students studying overseas decide to return home.

The government has announced extended and strengthened quarantine measures on inbound travellers from overseas, and is urging citizens not to leave the country.

So far 87 confirmed cases have been cured and discharged from hospital, four patients have died, while the rest are being treated in 12 different hospitals across Hong Kong.

- Asia Media Centre