Philippines, Indonesia buck Southeast Asia trend as virus cases mount

As cases of Covid-19 fall around Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia are two countries bucking the trend as they've continued to witness a surge in virus cases in recent weeks and days

July 17, 2020
Philippines, Indonesia buck Southeast Asia trend as virus cases mount
Filipino police officers man a checkpoint during a lockdown in Navotas City, Philippines on 16 July. Photo: EFE/EPA/Francis R. Malasig

The daily number of Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the Philippines and Indonesia, which have become exceptions to the rule in Southeast Asia, where most countries have the pandemic largely under control.

In the Philippines, where the first coronavirus cases were detected in January, the upward trend in infections has persisted despite one of the longest and most restrictive lockdowns anywhere in the world.

The cities of Manila and Cebu have been under lockdown for four months, and yet hospitals in the country’s two main population hubs are being overstretched by Covid-19 patients.

On Thursday the Philippines surpassed 60,000 cases, a grisly milestone that the most pessimistic studies predicted would not be hit until August. It came as another 2,500 cases were added to the country’s health records.

Coronavirus has been linked to 1,643 deaths in the archipelagic nation.

As of Wednesday this week much of the Philippines was in the advanced stages of easing the lockdown.

However, densely populated areas, including the capital, which is home to 13 million, remained in an intermediate phase allowing for the tentative resumption of economic activity but still restricting the movement of people between provinces.

Experts from the University of the Philippines said Manila may have to put the brakes on easing the lockdown, given that the infection rate in the capital has swelled to 1.7%. They added that the curve was unlikely to be flattened until September.

Although the country is capable of 20,000 tests per day, only 987,000 people have been tested so far, representing less than 1% of the country’s 108 million people.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country with 270 million people, has implemented a range of health measures across the sprawling archipelago’s 17,000 islands, but they have come up short.

New cases of infection were down to poor air circulation in offices and the general public’s failure to properly observe mask use

Health authorities on Thursday detected 1,574 new cases of coronavirus and 76 deaths, bringing the total number to 81,600 cases and 3,873 deaths.

The director of the department for disease control Achmad Yurianto told a press conference that the new cases of infection were down to poor air circulation in offices and the general public’s failure to properly observe mask use, social distancing and hygiene protocol.

Testing is relatively low in Indonesia and the government has not enforced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 but has instead isolated areas of the capital Jakarta.

President Joko Widodo’s government suspended inter-provincial flights during the sacred month of Ramadan, although the application of the rule was lax.

This week Widodo asked health authorities to boost testing to around 30,000 per day.

The Philippines and Indonesia have become hotspots in Southeast Asia compared to their neighbours in the region.

Vietnam’s handling of the health crisis has been widely lauded as one of the most efficient. The country has not registered a single coronavirus-related death and has gone 90 days without detected a case of infection.

Thailand has not registered any new cases for two months.

Strict lockdowns and mass track and trace programmes in Singapore and Malaysia drove cases down although there have been outbreaks at migrant worker accommodation centres.

Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos have fewer than 1,000 cases between them and their respective governments say they have the outbreak under control despite a general lack of testing and precarious healthcare systems.

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