Coronavirus: Why Asia, the pandemic champion, is miles from the finish line

June 16, 2021 5:28 pmComments Off on Coronavirus: Why Asia, the pandemic champion, is miles from the finish lineViews: 5

Damien Cave writes:
16 June, 2021
Across the Asia-Pacific region, countries that took the lead in protecting the world from the coronavirus are now lagging behind in the race to contain it.
While the United States, which has suffered far more severe outbreaks, is now filling stadiums with vaccinated fans and airplanes with summer vacations, the former pandemic champions still remain uncertain, Caught in a cycle of restriction and isolation.

In southern China, the spread of the delta variant led to a sudden lockdown in Guangzhou, a major industrial capital, last week. Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia have also closed down after recent outbreaks, while Japan is dealing with its own fatigue from a fourth round of infections, with fears of a viral disaster from the Olympics.

Where they can, people are moving on with their lives, wearing masks and social distancing and stepping out near home. Economically, the region has withstood the pandemic relatively well because of how most countries successfully handled its first phase.

But with millions still unvaccinated from China to New Zealand – and with worried leaders keeping international borders closed for the foreseeable future – tolerance for constrained lives is thinning, even as new Versions also intensify the threat.

In simple words, people are fed up, asking: why are we behind, and when, for the love of all things good and great, will the routine of the pandemic finally end?

“If we’re not stuck, it’s like we’re waiting in glue or mud,” said Terry Nolan, head of the Vaccine and Immunization Research Group at the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Emerging from its latest lockdown. “Everybody is trying to get out, to find a sense of urgency.”

While lethargy varies from country to country, it generally stems from a lack of vaccines.

In some places such as Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, vaccination campaigns are barely underway. Others, such as China, Japan, South Korea and Australia, have seen a sharp increase in vaccinations in recent weeks, while far from giving vaccines to everyone who wants one.

But almost everywhere in this area, trend lines point to a reversal of fate. While Americans celebrate what feels like a new dawn, for many of Asia’s 4.6 billion people, the rest of this year will look like the last, with extreme suffering for some and normalcy for others. I will be abandoned.

Or there could be more volatility. Around the world, businesses are watching whether the new outbreak in southern China will affect busy port terminals there. Across Asia, faltering vaccine rollouts could also open doors to a variety of fueled lockdowns that wreak new damage to economies, oust political leaders and alter power dynamics between nations.

The risks lie in decisions made months ago, before the pandemic turned the worst of its carnage.

In the spring of last year, the United States and several countries in Europe bet big on vaccines, fast-tracking approvals and spending billions to secure the first batches. The need was urgent. In the United States alone, at the peak of its outbreak, thousands of people were dying every day as the country’s management of the pandemic failed catastrophically.

But in places like Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, infection rates and deaths were kept relatively low with border restrictions, public compliance with antivirus measures, and widespread testing and contact tracing. The virus situation is largely under control, and with limited ability to develop vaccines domestically, there was little urgency to place large orders or believe in then-unproven solutions.

“The perceived threat to the public was low,” said Dr., an associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. C. Jason Wang, who has studied COVID-19 policies. “And governments responded to the public’s perception of the threat.”

As a virus-mitigation strategy, border controls – a preferred method across Asia – only go so far, Wang said: “To end the pandemic, you need both defensive and offensive strategies. Aggressive strategies are vaccines. ”

Their rollout in Asia has been defined by humanitarian logic (the countries most in need of vaccines), local complacency, and raw power over drug production and exports.

Earlier this year, contract announcements with companies and countries that regulate vaccines seemed more common than actual deliveries. In March, Italy halted the export of 250,000 doses of

The vaccine was meant for Australia to control its own raging outbreak. Other shipments were delayed due to manufacturing issues.

Richard Maud, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Australia, said, “The supply of purchased vaccines is actually landing at the docks – it’s fair to say that they are nowhere near the procurement commitments.”

To put it more simply, Peter Collignon, a physician and professor of microbiology at the Australian National University who has worked for the World Health Organization, put it: “The reality is that vaccine-makers are keeping them for themselves.”

In response to that reality and the rare blood-clotting complications that emerged with the AstraZeneca vaccine, many politicians in the Asia-Pacific region were quick to emphasize that there was little need to rush.

The result is now a wide gap with the United States and Europe.

In Asia, about 20% of people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with Japan, for example, at only 14%. In contrast, the figure is around 45% in France, over 50% in the United States and over 60% in the UK.

Instagram, where Americans once scolded Hollywood stars for enjoying mask-free lives in zero-COVID Australia, is now studded with smiling pictures of New Yorkers hugging just-vaccinated friends . While snapshots of Paris show smiling diners at cafes that are wooing summer tourists, in Seoul, people are obsessively refreshing apes who figure out a dose of leftovers, usually finding nothing.

“Is there a vaccine available?” Recently a Twitter user asked. “Or does it disappear in 0.001 seconds because it’s like a ticket to the front row seat of a K-pop idol concert?”

Due to some shortfall in supply, demand has increased.

China, which has been hesitant about its own vaccines after controlling the virus for months, gave 22 million shots on June 2, a record for the country. In total, China is reported to have administered approximately 900 million doses in a country of 1.4 billion people.

Japan has also stepped up its efforts, easing rules that allowed only select medical workers to be vaccinated. Japanese authorities opened large vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka and expanded vaccine programs in workplaces and colleges. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga now says a vaccine will be available to all adults by November.

In Taiwan, too, the vaccination effort recently gained a boost, as the Japanese government donated nearly 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But all told, Taiwan’s experience is somewhat distinctive: It still has received enough doses to vaccinate less than 10% of its 23.5 million residents. A Buddhist union recently offered to buy COVID-19 vaccines to accelerate the island’s anemic vaccination effort, but was told only governments could make such purchases.

And as vaccination lags across Asia, so will any strong international resume. Australia has indicated it will keep its borders closed for another year. Japan is barring almost all non-residents from entering the country, and intense scrutiny of foreign arrivals in China has left multinational businesses without key workers.

For many places in Asia the immediate future is likely to be defined by frantic adaptation.

China’s response to the outbreak in Guangzhou this month – testing millions in days, locking down entire neighborhoods – is a rapid-fire version of how it has handled past flare-ups. Some inside the country expect this view to change soon, especially as the delta version, which devastated India, has now started airing.

At the same time, vaccine holders are facing increased pressure to vaccinate before available doses expire, and not just in mainland China.

Indonesia has threatened residents with fines of about $450 if they refuse the vaccines. Vietnam has responded to its recent spike in infections by soliciting donations from the public for the COVID-19 Vaccine Fund. And in Hong Kong, officials and business leaders are offering a variety of temptations to ease serious vaccine hesitation.

Nonetheless, the forecast billboard for much of Asia this year is clear: the disease is not defeated, and will not be anytime soon. Even those who are lucky enough to get the vaccine often leave with mixed feelings.

“This is the way out of the pandemic,” said Kate Tebbutt, 41, a lawyer who only got her first shot last week

Commentary at the Royal Exhibition Building near Melbourne’s central business district. “I think we should be ahead of where we are.”
Courtesy: The New York Times

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