“Success story”, “phenomenon” and “model for the world”. This is how Vietnam has been described in studies and reports that have reported the triumph of the Asian country of 100 million people against Covid-19. As of May this year, Vietnam had recorded just 35 deaths from the pandemic, all concentrated in just over a month last year.
The scenario in the country, however, has changed. Although it still recorded only 1,161 deaths from Covid-19 in total last Saturday (30), the number of victims of the disease has skyrocketed in the last month, to the point that in just one day , on the last Thursday (29), Vietnam had 392 victims.
The case of Vietnam is emblematic of what Southeast Asia has been confronted with, a region which has managed to control, each country in its own way, the advance of the coronavirus for more than a year, but which has saw its systems collapse just as the world’s richest nations can see the other side of the pandemic tunnel.
It is in the Asian region, for example, that the country in which the largest number of people die from the disease today is Indonesia. As late as last Tuesday (27), 2,069 deaths from the disease were recorded there. To give you an idea, that’s almost 7 times the roughly 300 deaths per day the country recorded between late January and early February, in what had been the peak of the disease so far.
A combination of three factors explains the explosion of cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, according to the assessment by Indonesian epidemiologist Dickie Budiman, a researcher at Griffith University in Australia.
The first is what worries the world, the advance of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which alone in Indonesia accounts for 93% of cases. The mutation is not only more contagious, it also reduced the effectiveness of the applied vaccines, although they remain effective in preventing deaths and hospitalizations.
There are discussions arguing, for example, that Coronavac – a widely used vaccine in the region, developed by Chinese Sinovac and, in Brazil, distributed by Butantan – has a third dose for the general population, as a booster. Health workers are already getting a boost from another manufacturer, Moderna, after the country recorded the deaths of people vaccinated, and the measure could be extended to the rest of the population.
But increasing the number of doses needed is expected to make it even more difficult to control the pandemic in Southeast Asia, as another factor behind the region’s collapse is the low supply of vaccines, Budiman says.
Indonesia and the Philippines, the most populous countries in the region, have not reached 8% of the population fully immunized. In Vietnam, with its nearly 100 million inhabitants, the rate of fully immunized people is 0.6%. For comparison, Brazil is approaching 20% of the total population fully immunized.
The low testing capacity is the third reason cited by the Indonesian epidemiologist to explain the explosion of Covid-19 in Southeast Asia.
“Unfortunately, even before the advance of the delta variant, conditions were already bad, with few vaccines and few tests. Now the situation is even worse, with full hospitals,” Budiman told Folha.
It reinforces that the low vaccination rate is due to the lack of vaccine availability. “There is no expressive anti-vaccine feeling, people are eager to get vaccinated. This is good news, but the challenge is to get millions and millions of people vaccinated,” he adds.
The outbreak of Covid in the region has drawn international attention, as the lack of control of the disease is the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of mutations that may escape vaccines.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet for five days next week with ten foreign ministers from ASEAN, the association of Southeast Asian countries, and will have on the agenda, among others, donating vaccines to the region. —23 million doses. have been donated. In addition, National Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Vietnam and Singapore in August.
The Americans are particularly interested in strengthening their image in the region in order to contain the advance of China. Southeast Asia is now home to one of the greatest geopolitical challenges in the world, the South China Sea issue, a strategic region of great economic importance over which the Chinese claim control, which is contested by other nations.
Besides the Americans, the UK turned to the UN Security Council last Thursday to alert on the situation in Myanmar, calling for a ceasefire to ensure vaccination. Indeed, in addition to battling the virus, the country’s population of 54 million was surprised by a coup in February, which installed a military government. A party reacted and, according to the association of assistance to the political prisoners of the country, 940 people have already been killed by the military junta.
But the case that worried the planet the most is that of Indonesia, now the epicenter of the disease, which has received donated vaccines, oxygen and other supplies to contain the contagion.
Although the number of cases and deaths continues to grow, the country of 270 million people has started to ease restrictions and last week allowed, for example, small traders, traditional markets, malls and restaurants with outdoor spaces to reopen their doors.
Singapore, on the other hand, is the main exception in the region. Despite the concentration of population (it is the second densest country in the world), the control of the disease in the country is easier in the island city-state than in other places like Indonesia, whose territory is divided by more than 17,000 islands.
Although Singapore has seen a recent increase in cases as the delta variant progresses in the region, the number of daily confirmations of the disease is now around 15% of what it was at the peak in April of the year. last. So far, only 37 people have died in the country of nearly 6 million people. There, 55% of the population is already fully immune to Covid-19 and 73% have received at least one dose.