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COVID-19 Spread Threatens Malaysia, Vietnam, and a Large Part of Southeast Asia

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EIRNS—Another wave of COVID-19 has forced widespread lockdown in Vietnam’s industrialized north, and triggered a severe warning from Malay Health Officials that Malaysia could be heading for a “vertical surge” of infections in the coming days. Today, the Singapore-based Straits Times article,“Will Southeast Asia Be Swamped by COVID-19, Like in South Asia?” reported: “Southeast Asia is now in the grip of a new wave of infections that is putting unprecedented pressure on healthcare systems and threatening to bring economies to their knees.”

The Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam and Malaysia in particular, were largely spared from the COVID-19 ravages for most of the last year. In February of this year, however, disaster struck. Massive outbreaks forced Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos into ongoing lock-downs. In Thailand, hospital beds began filling up, following a large-scale spread of infection reported from Bangkok, resulting in the country’s highest-ever number of daily cases early last month. The number spiked again after Songkran, the Thai New Year. In late-April, the government of Laos closed its borders and announced a two-week lock-down in the capital, Vientiane, as the country underwent a sweeping outbreak of COVID-19, which the media linked to its neighbor Thailand.

Now, Vietnam and Malaysia are encountering the virus attack. In Vietnam, the industrial facilities in the northern part reported the wave. Bac Ninh, home to production facilities of Samsung Electronics, started a curfew and other travel restrictions from May 25, state media reported. That followed the temporary closure of four industrial parks, including three with Foxconn facilities, by authorities in neighboring Bac Giang province, Channel News Asia reported on May 25.

In Malaysia, where a state of emergency has prevailed since January, the surge of COVID-19 has rattled the authorities. Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Twitter the infections could “trigger a vertical surge.” He asked people to comply with the new measures that require most government officials and 40% of private sector staff to work from home. “Only together we can break the chain of infection,” he said, according to yesterday’s report by Bloomberg’s Anisah Shukry. As of now, Malaysia has reported fewer cases than neighbors Indonesia and the Philippines, but its ratio of infections, at more than 16,000 per million, is Southeast Asia’s highest, data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies show.

In Malaysia, some angry voices have emerged accusing Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government of failing to prevent the surge, labeling it a “failed government.” Malaysia’s surge is straining the resources of hospitals, where occupancy rates exceeded 70% last week in beds and intensive care units for virus patients, Reuters reported yesterday. [rma]