COVID-19: What’s happening in the region

An update on the COVID-19 situation around the world.

Ruth Chan

Enjoys solitude. Finds comfort in watching the sunset and drinking milo.

Published: 25 January 2021, 7:11 PM

Singapore has tightened restrictions ahead of Chinese New Year after having its first cluster of COVID-19 cases since November last year. 

It may have been more than a year since the novel coronavirus first started spreading internationally, but it continues to remain a challenge around the world.

Here is how other countries in the region are faring in the fight against COVID-19.

1. Malaysia is considering imposing a total lockdown

Malaysia hit a record of 4,275 cases on Saturday (Jan 23), and another 3,346 cases were reported on Sunday.

The Health Ministry in Malaysia wants to impose a total lockdown on all economic activities except essential services if there is no improvement in community transmission cases.

Currently, the country is under a second movement control order (MCO), the equivalent of Singapore’s circuit breaker, that expires on Feb 4.

 Major industries such as manufacturing, construction and agriculture have been allowed to continue operating under the existing MCO, but the government gave stakeholders in the manufacturing sector early warning of a potential shutdown.


The manufacturing sector is linked to nearly one-third of Malaysia’s 300 COVID-19 clusters. PHOTO CREDIT: YULIA VIA PEXELS


Malaysia’s first MCO, which was imposed in March last year, closed schools and shut businesses, but successfully decreased the number of daily new cases to single digits.

The current MCO mainly restricts social and retail activities, and was imposed on Jan 13 after daily infections persisted at four-digit levels for two months. So far, it has failed to slow the spread of the virus.

2. Taiwan to quarantine 5,000 people due to a hospital cluster

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control, with the majority of its COVID-19 cases being imported ones. However, it has been dealing with a small number of local transmissions at a hospital since Jan 12 this year, where 15 people have been infected so far. 

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said that they will increase the number of people who have to be quarantined at home due to coming in contact with infected patients from the hospital cluster. He estimates about 5,000 people will be affected by the latest development.

Taiwan, which has since cancelled many large-scale events related to the upcoming Chinese New Year, has a well-honed system for contact tracing as well as a monitoring network to ensure those in quarantine remain at home.

The country currently has 95 active cases in hospitals.

3. First community case in New Zealand since November

For two months, New Zealand has gone without a community case. That was until Jan 24, when a 56-year-old woman previously returned to New Zealand on Dec 30 and tested positive for the South African strain of the virus. She had served a 14-day quarantine and had been tested negative twice.

Authorities said the source of the infection was probably a fellow returnee at the quarantine facility in Auckland.

Close contacts of the woman have so far tested negative.


New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assures citizens that its borders won’t be shut following the community case. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@JACINDA ARDERN


New Zealand’s last community transmission was in November and has only 1,927 confirmed cases in total.

4. Thailand is battling a second wave of coronavirus infections

Thailand has imposed an array of restrictions that differs across provincial borders.

As of Jan 24, there were 198 new cases reported, bringing the total number of cases to 13,500. Of these, only six were imported. 

Despite numerous extensions of its state of emergency, the Thai government has avoided a total lockdown following the one in March last year to avoid another severe economic recession.

Instead, it tightened restrictions gradually, province by province. This began last December, after a cluster of infections was discovered in a shrimp market in Samut Sakhon province, operated by mostly undocumented migrant workers.


Phuket, Ayutthaya and Nakhon Ratchasima have a more relaxed entry and quarantine measure for travellers from provinces that have fewer community infections. PHOTO CREDIT: ALEXANDR PODVALNY VIA PEXELS


Another key cluster in the country is linked to an illegal gambling den. People from both clusters have little incentive to come forward for testing unless they fall seriously ill.

As such, the Ministry of Labour announced an amnesty for undocumented workers in an effort to test everyone at risk.

According to Thailand’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, all provinces will enhance surveillance and preventive measures in the coming weeks to support government decisions on the relaxation of measures at a national level. 

Additionally, from Jan 25, everyone entering Thailand must present a certificate of entry issued by a Thai Embassy certifying that the individual is free from the virus.

5. Indonesia has started mass vaccination for herd immunity

Indonesia is the hardest hit by COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, with 999,256 cases and 28,132 deaths in total, as of Jan 25.

The Indonesian government has confirmed that it will extend its Restriction on Public Activities across Java and Bali for an additional two weeks to Feb 8. These areas were found to have a “below average” recovery rate for the virus and an “above average” death rate.

The nation started a mass vaccination drive on Jan 13. It hopes to vaccinate two-thirds of its 270 million people within 15 months, with 1.47 million health workers and 17.4 million public workers to be vaccinated by April 2021.

However, despite the president, a number of Cabinet members, religious leaders and influencers being vaccinated, many people remain sceptical about the vaccination.

6. Vietnam is limiting inbound flights ahead of upcoming festival

As of Jan 25, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health reports 1,548 cases and 35 deaths due to the pandemic.

As early as Jan 2020, the nation implemented a highly successful early detection and contact tracing system. It was dubbed as “Asia’s shining star during COVID” by the BBC in November last year.

Even so, Vietnam is limiting inbound flights ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year in order to reduce the COVID-19 transmission risk.

With a new variant of the novel coronavirus spreading around the globe, only necessary flights approved by the health, foreign, defence, public security and transport ministries are allowed to enter the country.

With strict quarantine and tracking measures, the country has fared better than many nations around the globe. 

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