In recent days, Indonesia has reported nearly twice as many coronavirus cases as the United States. Malaysia’s per capita caseload is roughly on par with those of Brazil and Iran. And the latest Covid surges in Japan and South Korea have prompted harsh new restrictions on movement there, effective Monday.
Across the Asia-Pacific region, the Delta variant is driving new outbreaks in places where transmission was once kept relatively low, but where the pace of vaccination has been too slow to contain the latest outbreaks. One result is that everyday activities are again being restricted, just as they were in the anxious, early days of the pandemic — even as the West edges back to normalcy.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, is a case in point. Its government once hoped that its archipelagic geography and youthful population would spare it a debilitating outbreak. But only about 13 percent of its 270 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and the rise of Delta is pushing its health system to the brink and forcing some patients to hunt for oxygen.
On July 3, the government closed mosques, schools, shopping malls and sports facilities on two of Indonesia’s major islands for two weeks. But the daily average of new cases — more than 33,000 as of Sunday — has continued to climb. Officials said on Friday that they would extend the same emergency rules to other islands.
Intensive care wards in and around the capital, Jakarta, have been operating at full capacity, and doctors who received the vaccine made by the Chinese company Sinovac have been falling ill or dying. The government has said it will administer a third dose, of the Moderna vaccine, to about 1.5 million health workers starting this week.
In other Southeast Asian countries, too, the percentages of populations that have gotten even one shot are in the single or low double digits. And as variant-driven infections proliferate, some are seeing their worst outbreaks yet.
In Myanmar, where health workers have been striking to protest the military’s February coup, cases are sharply rising and schools have been closed until July 23. People in several Malaysian cities are chafing under strict lockdowns as the country reports the region’s highest per capita caseload. Vietnam is restricting movement in its two major cities and scrambling to import vaccines. And a terminal at Thailand’s largest international airport is being converted into a field hospital.
Richer countries in the region have more resources to throw at the virus. But they, too, are vulnerable because they have made little progress in their vaccination drives. In Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, less than one person in three has had a shot, according to a New York Times tracker.
New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported its largest daily increase in cases this year on Sunday, as well as Australia’s first coronavirus-related death this year, a woman in her 90s. Sydney, the state capital, has already been under a stay-at-home lockdown, and the authorities have warned that it could be extended past July 17, when it is set to expire.
South Korea reported 1,378 new cases on Saturday, its third consecutive daily record. The government plans to raise restrictions to the highest level in Seoul, the capital, and some neighboring regions as of Monday. Schools will be closed, bars and nightclubs will be shut, and no more than two people will be allowed to meet in public after 6 p.m.
And in Japan, Tokyo’s fourth state of emergency will take effect on Monday, less than two weeks before the Summer Olympics begin there. Restaurants, department stores and other businesses will be asked to close early, and organizers of the Summer Games have said they will bar spectators from most events in Tokyo and its surrounding areas. A ceremony marking the Olympic torch’s arrival in the city late last week was held in a nearly empty park.
On Saturday, Fukushima Prefecture said that it would also ban spectators from Olympic events because of the surging caseload, reversing a position announced two days earlier by Olympic organizers.