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June 16, 2021

Asia

SOUTHEAST ASIA: Countries to watch in the next few weeks

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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( 5 mins)
  • Indonesia’s expected post-Idul Fitri spike has arrived, with targeted local restrictions being enforced until 28 June.
  • Forced to bear the political backlash from slow vaccine deliveries, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha promises to fully reopen Thailand in 120 days.
  • Dispersed provincial outbreaks in the Philippines could slow vaccinations in Metro Manila.

The imposition of movement controls, now extended to 28 June, and an accelerated vaccination campaign are causing the recent spike in Malaysia to come off its peak, while Cambodia is also seeing a decline in the number of new cases per day. However, the following trends in other countries bear watching for the next few weeks:

Indonesia: Numbers suggest current outbreak to peak late June or early July

New Covid-19 case detections have risen precipitously over the past two weeks — the expected, albeit delayed, effect of the mid-May Idul Fitri holidays. Currently, Indonesia is averaging around 8,600 cases per day, or roughly 31 per million, more than thrice from a month ago and about 50% more than last week.

In Jakarta, Covid-19 bed utilization has jumped to 75% as of 14 June from 45% a week earlier; the number of new daily cases in the capital is also the highest since February, and the positivity rate is 17%, almost double from a week ago. As a result, the government earlier this week reimposed the so- called “enforcement of restrictions on public activities” (PPKM), which are targeted restrictions implemented at the city or municipal level, until 28 June. PPKM allows the local government to tweak restrictions depending on the severity of the outbreak, by limiting capacity in workplaces and venues such as restaurants and places of worship, restricting the hours of public transportation and suspending public gatherings.

The administration of President Joko Widodo had attempted to curtail the customary homeward migration during the mid-May holidays, although significant land-based travel still took place, and is therefore unlikely to suffer politically from the current outbreak. Government officials are warning that the current wave could peak in two to three weeks.

Thailand: Prayuth pivots to a bold target while taking the heat for vaccination supply disruptions

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha today said his government’s goal is to fully open Thailand in 120 days, by mid-October, with vaccinated tourists to be allowed in without quarantine, internal travel to be unrestricted and all businesses allowed to operate. So far about 5mn Thais have received a jab, with only 1.8mn being fully vaccinated; Thailand’s goal is to immunize 70%, or roughly 50mn, of its population. Prayuth did not, however, what percentage of the population that would have to be vaccinated for Thailand to push through with its reopening.

Prayuth may have made the bold announcement to divert public attention from this week’s disruption in vaccine supplies. Hospitals in Bangkok have had to cancel vaccination appointments this week because deliveries have fallen short, only days after the well-covered start of the use of AstraZeneca doses produced by the domestic licensee, Siam Bioscience. One problem seems to be that the continuous vaccination schedule misaligned with the delivery of vaccines in batches.

Prayuth uncharacteristically apologized for the problem and took fully responsibility. However, this became necessary to shield Siam Bioscience from controversy — the company is fully-owned by the monarchy, and opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit had several months ago criticized the government’s seeming overdependence on the untested company for the bulk of the country’s vaccine supplies. There is little clarity regarding the timetable for Siam Bioscience to complete delivery of its contracted 6mn doses for June, but government is signaling that the pipeline would improve by next week, while Sinovac vaccines would also be arriving to ease the pressure. However, because of the uncertainty, private firms and provincial governments have turned to another monarchal institution, the Chulabhorn Royal Academy, which is led by the king’s youngest sister, for importations of the Sinopharm vaccine by July.

Philippines: Case spikes outside capital could slow Metro Manila’s targeted vaccination

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the virus is spreading faster outside Metro Manila with both higher positivity rates in the different regions and more cases being discovered daily compared to the capital. The numbers are still manageable, although some local governments are reporting full ICU capacity. This poses two problems for the administration. The first is that healthcare facilities are fewer and less well-equipped in these areas, which could turn relatively smaller outbreaks into serious shortages of facilities, equipment and medicine in many of the regions now under threat. Secondly, the outbreak may force the government to redirect vaccines to these areas, lest it be accused of neglect.

President Rodrigo Duterte will, in particular, be sensitive to this issue since he was elected as an outsider to elite politics and its Manila-centered policies, and a mishandled outbreak in the provinces could eventually be used against his nominated successor in the 2022 elections. However, redirecting vaccines could slow the targeted vaccination of the capital and its surrounding provinces, which accounts for roughly 40% of GDP. The Philippines has over the past few months modified its vaccination policy from fully health-risk based to increasing the allocation for the economically-active part of the population, similar to Indonesia.