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May 28, 2020

ASIA: The politics of coronavirus – Weekly update

BY Gabriel Wildau, Bob Herrera-Lim, Tobias Harris

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( 12 mins)

Below is the latest edition of our weekly Asia coronavirus update. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you want to discuss any of the countries mentioned in more detail.

China

The government of Wuhan, where the global coronavirus epidemic began, tested more than 6.5mn of the city’s 11mn residents – or 90% of the population, excluding children and those tested recently – in the ten days through 26 May, after a cluster of six new infections was discovered earlier this month. Last Friday alone, the city administered 1.47mn tests. The campaign involved medical workers testing residents at markets, office buildings, and construction sites, and identified 218 asymptomatic carriers, one of whom was later reclassified as a confirmed Covid-19 case.

The mass testing campaign was aided by the use of batch testing, which combines swabs from multiple people into a single plastic tube that is analyzed with a single test. A negative result indicates the entire batch is negative, while a positive result requires each sample to be re-tested individually. The method is considered useful in situations where most tests are expected to be negative. A municipal district in Beijing will use a similar method to test teachers and students before reopening schools. In addition to the public health benefits of mass testing campaigns, these efforts may also reassure the public that it is safe to resume normal activities.

Japan

Although there were 63 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 nationwide on Thursday, 28 May – the most Japan has had in 12 days – prefectural governments across the country have continued with plans to ease restrictions on business and social activities. Most notably, schools in Tokyo and Osaka could begin reopening on 1 June, three months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested that all schools close. However, while Abe toutedJapan’s successful handling of the outbreak when he lifted the nationwide state of emergency on 25 May, experts have continued to raise concerns about Japan’s testing capacity, which has lagged behind other developed countries. The upshot is that while Japan is no longer under a state of emergency, the economy is only reopening gradually, as the national and prefectural governments wait for signs for another wave of infections. The governor of the western prefecture of Fukuoka has already called upon residents of the city of Kita-Kyushu, which has reported 43 cases over six days, to limit non-essential activities in the coming days.

South Korea

The Korean government will reintroduce strict quarantine measures for the greater Seoul region through 14 June as it battles a new cluster linked to a distribution center for online retailer Coupang. South Korea confirmed 79 new cases on Thursday, the most in a single day since early April. The distribution facility, which was found to have disregarded several hygienic guidelines, has been linked to at least 82 cases, with more suspected. Therefore, authorities have ordered museums and art galleries to close, and suggested that bars and clubs close as well. Officials have also called upon employers to resume flexible work arrangements. The new cluster also led provincial governments in the region to postpone plans to reopen schools for kindergarteners and primary school students on Wednesday, although most of the country’s schools reopened as planned. The national government has warned that if the daily number of new cases remains above 50, it could reintroduce strict social distancing guidelines that were relaxed in early May.

Philippines

Despite ongoing community spread and possibly an increase in new cases, the government has decided to ease movement and business restrictions further in metro Manila and several provinces starting 1 June that are still under moderately tight containment rules. However, commuter rail and bus services will still be tightly limited. Only a fraction – possibly a fifth – of normal capacity will be available in the metropolis of 10 million people, indicating a lack of public transportation capacity due to decades of underinvestment. The government has not yet signaled when it will allow public transportation to be restored fully, but the expected levels next week will remain far short of what would allow for a quicker restart of the economy in the capital region, which accounts for 40% of the country’s economic output.

Meanwhile, enrollment for the next school year, the start of which has been pushed to August instead of the second week of June, will also begin on 1 June. There is still substantial confusion on how classes will be conducted. President Rodrigo Duterte has said classes will not resume without a vaccine, but his cabinet appears to have walked this back to physical classes not yet being allowed. However, given wide disparities in income, roughly 60% – 70% of families may find it difficult to acquire the computers or internet connectivity that would allow for sustained online classes. The policy could shift again in July depending on perceptions of risk.

Thailand

The government has announced 1 July as the target date for lifting all restrictions on business and other activities. This would include the restrictions on both domestic and inbound international travel, as well as lifting the shortened curfew. Thailand has already undergone two phases of lockdown easing and it will on 29 May announce the removal of another set of restrictions in early June, including further reducing the overnight curfew, allowing more activities in malls, expanding inter-provincial travel, and permitting the use of sporting and athletic facilities. Testing will be targeted at high-risk groups that could be the source of new infections or potential transmission, such as medical staff, immigration officials, prison guards, and restaurant and retail workers. What seems to be under debate yet for the third phase in June is whether theaters and entertainment facilities will be allowed to reopen, although movie distributors say that given the lack of new films to screen, the urgency is low.

Malaysia

The government will decide by 9 June whether schools will reopen and which types of social activities will be allowed to resume, as long as the trend of limited local community transmission in the single digits or low to mid-teens continues. Officials are watching whether the recent festive season after the end of Ramadan on 23 May had an impact on domestic transmission, and will therefore wait until after two weeks have passed. For the government, the greater concern seems to be clusters emerging from the immigration detention center and construction worker compounds.

Indonesia

Below is the latest edition of our weekly Asia coronavirus update. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you want to discuss any of the countries mentioned in more detail.

China

The government of Wuhan, where the global coronavirus epidemic began, tested more than 6.5mn of the city’s 11mn residents – or 90% of the population, excluding children and those tested recently – in the ten days through 26 May, after a cluster of six new infections was discovered earlier this month. Last Friday alone, the city administered 1.47mn tests. The campaign involved medical workers testing residents at markets, office buildings, and construction sites, and identified 218 asymptomatic carriers, one of whom was later reclassified as a confirmed Covid-19 case.

The mass testing campaign was aided by the use of batch testing, which combines swabs from multiple people into a single plastic tube that is analyzed with a single test. A negative result indicates the entire batch is negative, while a positive result requires each sample to be re-tested individually. The method is considered useful in situations where most tests are expected to be negative. A municipal district in Beijing will use a similar method to test teachers and students before reopening schools. In addition to the public health benefits of mass testing campaigns, these efforts may also reassure the public that it is safe to resume normal activities.

Japan

Although there were 63 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 nationwide on Thursday, 28 May – the most Japan has had in 12 days – prefectural governments across the country have continued with plans to ease restrictions on business and social activities. Most notably, schools in Tokyo and Osaka could begin reopening on 1 June, three months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested that all schools close. However, while Abe toutedJapan’s successful handling of the outbreak when he lifted the nationwide state of emergency on 25 May, experts have continued to raise concerns about Japan’s testing capacity, which has lagged behind other developed countries. The upshot is that while Japan is no longer under a state of emergency, the economy is only reopening gradually, as the national and prefectural governments wait for signs for another wave of infections. The governor of the western prefecture of Fukuoka has already called upon residents of the city of Kita-Kyushu, which has reported 43 cases over six days, to limit non-essential activities in the coming days.

South Korea

The Korean government will reintroduce strict quarantine measures for the greater Seoul region through 14 June as it battles a new cluster linked to a distribution center for online retailer Coupang. South Korea confirmed 79 new cases on Thursday, the most in a single day since early April. The distribution facility, which was found to have disregarded several hygienic guidelines, has been linked to at least 82 cases, with more suspected. Therefore, authorities have ordered museums and art galleries to close, and suggested that bars and clubs close as well. Officials have also called upon employers to resume flexible work arrangements. The new cluster also led provincial governments in the region to postpone plans to reopen schools for kindergarteners and primary school students on Wednesday, although most of the country’s schools reopened as planned. The national government has warned that if the daily number of new cases remains above 50, it could reintroduce strict social distancing guidelines that were relaxed in early May.

Philippines

Despite ongoing community spread and possibly an increase in new cases, the government has decided to ease movement and business restrictions further in metro Manila and several provinces starting 1 June that are still under moderately tight containment rules. However, commuter rail and bus services will still be tightly limited. Only a fraction – possibly a fifth – of normal capacity will be available in the metropolis of 10 million people, indicating a lack of public transportation capacity due to decades of underinvestment. The government has not yet signaled when it will allow public transportation to be restored fully, but the expected levels next week will remain far short of what would allow for a quicker restart of the economy in the capital region, which accounts for 40% of the country’s economic output.

Meanwhile, enrollment for the next school year, the start of which has been pushed to August instead of the second week of June, will also begin on 1 June. There is still substantial confusion on how classes will be conducted. President Rodrigo Duterte has said classes will not resume without a vaccine, but his cabinet appears to have walked this back to physical classes not yet being allowed. However, given wide disparities in income, roughly 60% – 70% of families may find it difficult to acquire the computers or internet connectivity that would allow for sustained online classes. The policy could shift again in July depending on perceptions of risk.

Thailand

The government has announced 1 July as the target date for lifting all restrictions on business and other activities. This would include the restrictions on both domestic and inbound international travel, as well as lifting the shortened curfew. Thailand has already undergone two phases of lockdown easing and it will on 29 May announce the removal of another set of restrictions in early June, including further reducing the overnight curfew, allowing more activities in malls, expanding inter-provincial travel, and permitting the use of sporting and athletic facilities. Testing will be targeted at high-risk groups that could be the source of new infections or potential transmission, such as medical staff, immigration officials, prison guards, and restaurant and retail workers. What seems to be under debate yet for the third phase in June is whether theaters and entertainment facilities will be allowed to reopen, although movie distributors say that given the lack of new films to screen, the urgency is low.

Malaysia

The government will decide by 9 June whether schools will reopen and which types of social activities will be allowed to resume, as long as the trend of limited local community transmission in the single digits or low to mid-teens continues. Officials are watching whether the recent festive season after the end of Ramadan on 23 May had an impact on domestic transmission, and will therefore wait until after two weeks have passed. For the government, the greater concern seems to be clusters emerging from the immigration detention center and construction worker compounds.

Indonesia

Around 340,000 military and police will be deployed in four provinces – Jakarta, West Java, West Sumatra and Gorontalo – and in an additional 25 cities and regencies to help enforce health measures as these areas prepare for the gradual easing of movement and business restrictions starting in early June. The most closely watched will be Jakarta, which will end its partial lockdown on 4 June; the capital is now considered to be moderate risk, because it has halved the average number of new cases per day compare to two weeks ago. Similar to Malaysia, the Indonesian government is watching whether there will be an increase of cases following the end of Ramadan.

Around 340,000 military and police will be deployed in four provinces – Jakarta, West Java, West Sumatra and Gorontalo – and in an additional 25 cities and regencies to help enforce health measures as these areas prepare for the gradual easing of movement and business restrictions starting in early June. The most closely watched will be Jakarta, which will end its partial lockdown on 4 June; the capital is now considered to be moderate risk, because it has halved the average number of new cases per day compare to two weeks ago. Similar to Malaysia, the Indonesian government is watching whether there will be an increase of cases following the end of Ramadan.

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