The Latest on Covid-19 in Southeast Asia: June 4, 2020

The U.S. government has more than quadrupled its pledged funding for Covid-19 aid in Southeast Asia to $77 million, up from just $18 million in early April. The new bilateral commitments are part of $1 billion the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have earmarked for global Covid-19 response. The Philippines, at $19 million, is receiving more than a quarter of the funds dedicated to the region, followed by Myanmar at $14 million. This is by far the most aid pledged to Southeast Asia from an individual donor country, at least by monetary value.

It is difficult to directly compare this with China’s assistance, which has consisted almost exclusively of shipments of medical supplies rather than cash grants. Those shipments, dubbed “mask diplomacy,” were highly visible in the region from late March through early May but have since tapered off. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, meanwhile, have approved billions of dollars in emergency loans to Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines to shore up their healthcare systems.

Possible Dangers

Most countries in Southeast Asia are easing or ending their lockdown measures and hoping to put the public health emergency behind them. But the region now faces an economic crisis that could be more damaging than those of 1997 or 2008. Unemployment numbers are particularly worrying. In Vietnam, the pandemic has cost 5 million jobs. The Thai government projects that over 14.4 million might be put out work in the second and third quarters of 2020. Unemployment figures in Malaysia and Singapore have reached ten-year highs.

And those numbers do not reflect job losses in the hard-hit informal sector, which employs over half the workforce in many Southeast Asian economies. Many informal businesses were shattered by lockdown measures. And informal workers, already among the most vulnerable to Covid-19, are being left out of many government recovery programs. According to the IMF, the economic impacts of the pandemic will linger until at least 2022, which does not bode well for the stability of many governments that count on sustained economic growth to underwrite their legitimacy.

  • For more details on recent developments, visit our Tracker online.

What's Happening with COVID-19 in Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the world's foremost success stories in the fight against COVID-19. CSIS Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Gregory Poling looks at the keys to its success and how it will impact the region going forward. Watch the video here.

Worth Reading