Lockdowns, Scramble For More Vaccines as Southeast Asian States Fight COVID-19 Surge

The number of COVID-19 infections is on the rise across continental Southeast Asia, with Vietnamese officials on Thursday imposing lockdowns and other restrictions in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus amid a spike in confirmed cases.

On Thursday, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health reported a total of 23,385 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 314 new ones, and 105 deaths, including three new ones, since announcing its first virus case in January 2020.

Most of the cases are in Ho Chi Minh City, followed by the northern provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh, as well as Binh Duong province in the south.

The People’s Committee in Ho Chi Minh City, the equivalent of city hall in Vietnam’s largest city, announced the imposition of social-distancing measures and the suspension of food take-out services, street lottery ticket sales, traditional and motorbike taxi services, and passenger transportation, including some daily flights, for 15 days starting on Saturday, according to state-run media.

Municipal officials have asked residents to stay at home and only go outside for essential trips such as buying food and medicine or getting emergency care. Delivery services for essential goods are allowed.

The city’s department of trade and industry has been ordered to carry out a market stabilization program to ensure the sufficient provision of goods with stable prices for locals, state media reports said.

Department director Bui Ta Hoang Vu said on Wednesday that his office had triple the supply of essential goods during normal conditions, and that supermarkets, traditional markets, and convenience stores would remain open.

Also on Thursday, the People’s Committee in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital with a population of nearly 4.9 million people, suspended public transportation services to and from 14 provinces and cities with COVID-19 outbreaks. They have banned outdoor sports and physical exercise activities and have asked residents to only leave their homes when necessary.

Following on the heels of the moves, organizers of the 2021 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, decided to cancel to the event scheduled for Nov. 21-Dec. 2 in Hanoi due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters news agency reported. The biennial event features 40 sports and athletes from 11 countries in the region.

“Definitely, the 31st SEA Games will not [be hosted] this year as scheduled in November,” Reuters quoted Varin Tansuphasiri, a Games Council member and deputy secretary of the Thai Olympic Committee, as saying.

Vietnam wants to postpone the Games until next April or May, he said.

Scramble for vaccines

In the meantime, Vietnam is scrambling to obtain and administer COVID-19 vaccines to its nearly 99 million people. As of Thursday, authorities had given close to 4 million vaccine doses across the country to its nearly 99 million people, according to Suc Khoe Doi Song, the official newspaper of the Health Ministry.

The government has confirmed a commitment to administer 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses donated by China to Chinese citizens working in the country as requested by the government in Beijing, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told reporters at the weekly news briefing in Hanoi on Thursday.

On June 24, the Chinese Embassy in Vietnam posted a statement on the Chinese social network Weibo, accusing the Vietnamese government of not consulting with China on the distribution of 500,000 donated Sinopharm doses. The embassy later said that Hanoi had promised to arrange the vaccinations for Chinese citizens.

Vietnam also has received 4.4 million AstraZeneca doses of the vaccine, 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and 97,110 Pfizer doses, Le Thi Thu Hang said. Under the World Health Organization’s COVAX sharing scheme, priority distribution has been given to Vietnam, which will receive 2 million doses of the Moderna vaccine this week.

In an interview with the Voice of Vietnam on Wednesday, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Minh Vu said the country would continue implementing its vaccine diplomacy strategy to secure sufficient doses for local use.

Officials have been engaged in lobbying efforts to get more vaccines, reaching agreements to secure 30 million doses for 70 percent of its population, he said.

Ho Chi Minh City police issued a notice on Thursday, warning local residents about vaccine and other related scams amid the growing demand for the doses, state media reported.

Fraudsters in protective medical suits have gone to residents’ homes, asking to disinfect the houses in exchange for a fee. Others who have pretended to be medical staff or representatives from vaccine manufacturers have asked people to deposit money in an account to get a vaccine, the reports said.

Scammers also have posted fake information on social networks about patients in need to fraudulently collect donations and have called people on COVID quarantine lists, requesting their personal information or getting them to access web links containing malicious computer code to steal data, state media report said.

‘New wave of the outbreak’

Neighboring Cambodia recorded 58,057 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 954 new cases as of Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health on Thursday. The country has had a total of 825 related deaths, including 27 new ones.

About 4.8 million doses of mainly Chinese COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across the country, with 3.5 million people now fully vaccinated. This amounts to just under 48 percent of the total target of 10 million people to be vaccinated.

Nevertheless, Cambodians have raised questions about the efficacy of the Chinese vaccines, especially as infection rates continue to soar, as there have been no studies on their effectiveness.

The number of confirmed virus cases spiked in early April, about two months after vaccines began to be administered in the country.

In landlocked Laos, the government decided earlier this week to extend an ongoing pandemic lockdown for another 15 days until July 19 with certain relaxations, according to a notice issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on July 4.

The previous lockdown imposed on June 19 was due to expire on July 4.

“[S]ome of our neighboring countries are facing new wave of the outbreak, with daily increase[s] of infections and deaths,” said the notice posted on the website of Lao’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The notice also cited reports of the new, more contagious Delta variant of the virus and the detection in the country of new imported cases of it.

“Against this backdrop, our country is still at risk as some of our neighboring countries are still facing community transmission and took preventive measures by closing businesses in some provinces, leading to the increase number of Lao labors to return back to the country,” the notice said.

The document listed the continuation of measures such as the closing of entertainment venues, prohibiting sports that involve physical contact, closing of schools in the capital Vientiane and in provinces that have community transmission cases, and forbidding of social events and gatherings.

But the government also relaxed some policies, allowing the opening of shopping malls, stores, markets, and dine-in restaurants as long as they impose social-distancing protocols and sanitary measures, and check the body temperatures of patrons.

On Thursday, the Lao Health Ministry reported a total 2,469 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 29 new cases, while the death rate held steady at three.

As of mid-June, more than 1.1 million vaccine doses had been administered to the country’s population of nearly 7.4 million people, according to the most recent information issued by World Health Organization (WHO).

Case numbers hit new highs

Myanmar health officials reported a total of 180,055 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 4,132 new ones, as of Thursday. Of the country’s total 3,621 related deaths, there were 51 new cases.

The rising number of cases prompted China on Wednesday to shut down nonessential businesses and public offices and require residents to remain at home in the city of Ruili bordering the Myanmar trading town Muse in northern Shan state amid a new breakout of the virus on the China side.

The same day, Myanmar health authorities announced stay-at-home measures in parts of commercial capital Yangon, as case numbers hit new highs.

As of June 5, a total of 3,368,042 vaccine doses have been administered in the country of 54 million, according to the WHO, as Myanmar tries to obtain more does from China and Russia.

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