As of 26 February, infections of coronavirus have been detected in 28 countries outside of China – 11 of them are Asian countries and some reports have claimed that Southeast Asia is particularly at risk. A study by The Lancet ranks this region among the worst in health care access and equality so, the risk of death due to the coronavirus outbreak is heightened.
Contributing to this is the low health literacy rates and, in some countries, poor hygiene awareness and limited access to clean water and masks. It’s against this backdrop that we wanted to explore how the coronavirus has impacted Southeast Asian countries, and what is being done to ensure the situation is under control.
Thailand has been considered one of the most susceptible to a coronavirus outbreak as the country is one of the more popular holiday destinations for Chinese people during the lunar new year break – over 25,000 reported visiting from China this year. To prevent an outbreak the malls are using temperature scanners, airports are screening passengers and officials have increased warnings in tourist areas. Hand sanitizers are also being provided in shops and public transport systems.
On 17 February, Thailand confirmed its 35th case of coronavirus, a 60-year-old Chinese tourist, making it the third-highest country with confirmed coronavirus cases after China. Since then, authorities have expanded virus screening at airports to cover travellers from Japan and Singapore – the two countries with the highest number of confirmed cases after China. The government is quarantining anyone who displays symptoms of coronavirus.
The passengers on the MS Westerdam cruise ship were also denied entry to Thailand after an American woman onboard tested positive. The 21 Thai nationals who are also onboard the cruise ship were quarantined for 14 days when they returned to Thailand.
A female passenger who disembarked the MS Westerdam cruise ship in Cambodia after testing negative for coronavirus then travelled on to Malaysia where she was found to have symptoms and tested positive. As of February 24, this raised the total number of positive coronavirus cases in Malaysia to 22. Since then, passengers from the Westerdam have been banned from entering the country.
The Malaysian government also imposed a travel ban on visitors from China’s Hubei, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. On February 11, Malaysia and Singapore’s Health Ministries jointly announced
Singapore declared code orange which stands for heightened risk, on February 7. As of February 24, the country has 89 confirmed cases of coronavirus, of which 50 have fully recovered. Officials are particularly concerned as many of these had no known links to China or people already infected.
Singapore has been praised internationally for its effective response to the outbreak. In an effort to minimize spread, the government was among the first to impose strict travel restrictions. Since January 23 all inbound flights from Wuhan have been cancelled. The government also would not allow entry to visitors of any nationality with recent travel history to China and people holding passports from Hubei as of January 30. New and previously issued passports to China have also been suspended.
The country’s officials advised event organizers to cancel large-scale events and employers have been advised to carry out temperature screening at least twice a day. Anyone with any respiratory symptoms or fever has been advised to see a doctor immediately. Employers are required to provide 14-day paid leave-of-absence to Chinese nationals returning to their Singapore, who are permanent residents of Singapore or have work permits.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health is conducting temperature screening and closely controlling entry points into hospitals and patients with pneumonia are being identified and separated from other patients. All inter-school activities and external activities by schools have been ordered to stop. The government has also provided masks to almost a million households and has started a government-run WhatsApp group that keeps citizens informed of the number of cases and cluster areas.
The first death outside of China was reported in the Philippines on February 1. The total number of positive coronavirus cases stands at 3. Philippine airlines issued a travel ban to Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
A temporary ban was imposed on the 23,000 migrant Filipino workers, also called Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), from traveling to China on 2 February. The ban was lifted on 18th February allowing the migrant workers to return to Macau and Hong Kong. The visa on arrival service for flights from China was suspended.
Even though Indonesia has reported no cases of coronavirus as of February 24, authorities are carrying out surveillance using thermal scanners at over 135 entrance points to Indonesia from abroad. All flights to and from China have been banned from transiting within Indonesia. Visa-free service and visa on arrival services for people from mainland China have been temporarily suspended.
The Indonesian government has also repatriated 243 Indonesians from China and all 243 have undergone a quarantine of 14 days and tested negative for coronavirus.
The government shared a health advisory on its website enumerating the measures that can be taken by individuals to prevent a coronavirus infection.
As of 24 February, Cambodia has only one confirmed case of the coronavirus and to prevent further spread of the virus all trade in wild animals has been suspended. The government initiallyrefused to evacuate its citizens from China’s Hubei province, but on February 14 the Cambodian government allowed the passengers aboard the Westerdam cruise ship to disembark after all passengers were temperature tested and confirmed negative by the Ministry of Health and the local public health authorities.
As of February 13, Vietnam confirmed its 13th case of coronavirus. Six confirmed cases were discovered in the Son Loi commune in Vinh Phuc. Vietnamese authorities then placed the commune under quarantine for 14 days on February 13. All flights to and from China have been suspended and visas will not be issued for foreign visitors who have been in China in the past two weeks.
The road ahead
The fast mutating coronavirus was declared a global healthcare emergency by WHO on January 30 and continues to test countries’ healthcare systems. As the death toll continues to rise across the world, governments and healthcare providers are under close scrutiny. There exists no vaccine to fight the coronavirus outbreak and pharmaceutical companies across the world are racing to develop vaccines and drugs. Unfortunately, it could take up to a year for a vaccine to be made widely available. In the meanwhile, airports and government authorities continue to employ screening methods and issuing health care measures in order to curb the spread of the outbreak.
*All figures stated were last updated as stated however as the situation continues to unfold, please check the latest official government announcements for the most up-to-date figures.