In The Eye Of Southeast Asia's COVID-19 Surge

Only countries that have won the battle against COVID-19 can fully reopen the economy. Others face difficult balancing acts. Southeast Asia is no exception.

Coronavirus, Covid19, Covid-19

I am writing this column in Pasay City, at the eye of Southeast Asia’s new pandemic surge. In late February, Pasay, a major destination hub of Metro Manila, reported the highest number of COVID-cases and second highest in the Philippines. Today, the city’s General Hospital is nearing full-bed capacity.

Pasay City is no longer alone. Today, the case numbers are still higher in other cities. The Philippines has hit its highest single-day increase one day after another and by March 20 the number of recorded daily COVID-19 cases surpassed 8,000.

As new variants and new spikes are spreading from Europe, United States and Brazil into lower-middle and low-income economies, emerging Southeast Asia is among the first world regions facing the new surge.

Considering China’s lessons in pandemic containment, reopening of the economy becomes viable only when COVID-19 is contained. Only a few countries in Southeast Asia fulfill the essential requirements for the full reopening. 

Spikes, variants in Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, the effectiveness of the pandemic containment can be measured by daily new confirmed infection cases per million people. In that view, the cases first soared in Singapore, which has been able to reduce the numbers dramatically. Excluding the high-income city state, the status quo is very different in emerging Southeast Asia (Figure 1). 


Figure 1 Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people

Source: Johns Hopkins (7-day rolling average), DifferenceGroup (March 19, 2021)

From March to late fall 2020, Philippines had more per capita cases than the rest of the region. In the past four months or so, Malaysia has dominated the numbers. That changed after the first week of March, when cases in the Philippines surged across those in Indonesia and by mid-month across those in Malaysia. 

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Dr. Dan Steinbock is an internationally recognized strategist of the multipolar world and the founder of Difference Group. He has served at the India, China and ...

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