The Latest on Southeast Asia: May 13, 2021

Southeast Asian countries have continued to see a resurgence in Covid-19 infections in the past two weeks. The region’s two largest Muslim-majority countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, face a particular challenge limiting infections and travel ahead of the Eid-al-Fitr holidays. Indonesia has imposed a ban on domestic travel from May 6 to 17, when millions of people traditionally return home to celebrate the end of Ramadan. However, Indonesian police said on Twitter that multiple individuals have already tried to skirt the travel ban and breach checkpoints by hiding in trucks. Malaysia also announced a ban on domestic travel on May 12 and curbs will remain in place until June 7. The country’s nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) prohibits all forms of social gatherings and caps mosque capacity at 50 people. It is still too early to tell whether non-compliance with these movement restrictions will result in a surge in cases. But Indonesian health authorities last year recorded a 69 percent increase in Covid-19 cases after the Eid-al-Fitr holidays.

The current outbreak in India is also fueling these fears and affecting official policies on Covid-19 mitigation across Southeast Asia. The Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia have all identified cases of the new so-called “double mutant” variant of the virus first detected in India. Many regional countries have barred foreign arrivals from India and neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. Whether the new variant will exacerbate the spread of new cases in Southeast Asia remains to be seen, but the trajectory over the past two weeks is concerning. Laos reported its first Covid-related death on May 9, more than a year into the pandemic. Cambodia’s cumulative cases per capita rose by a third in the past week to 115 per 100,000 residents. On May 12, Malaysia recorded its highest daily case load in more than three months, with 4,765 new cases, and its highest daily death toll of the entire pandemic, with 39 deaths. On the same day, Thailand recorded its highest daily death toll of 34 deaths, and Thailand’s total case tally has more than tripled since the beginning of April.

On a more positive note, delays from the COVAX vaccine rollout are starting to clear up. Indonesia welcomed 1.3 million additional doses of the COVAX-procured Astra-Zeneca vaccine on May 8, bringing the total number of doses received to 6.4 million. Indonesia is set to receive 11.7 million doses by the end of May. Malaysia received its first batch of 268,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on April 23 and is set to receive 6 million doses in total. The Philippines received 2 million doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine on May 8 and its first batch of 193,050 Pfizer vaccines, originally set to be delivered in February, on May 10. BioNTech also announced on May 10 that it would establish a new manufacturing facility in Singapore as the company’s Asia-Pacific vaccine hub. At the current pace of vaccine rollout, the Economist Intelligence Unit still forecasts that most Southeast Asian countries will not reach herd immunity until late 2022 or 2023.

For more updates on the region’s ongoing struggle with the pandemic, visit our online Tracker.