Pandemic fatigue, rise of new strains: Why Asia is struggling amid surge in Covid-19 cases

The Straits Times correspondents examine the situation around the region

PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, REUTERS, ROHINI MOHAN

A hundred days before Asia hosts the Olympics in Japan, the continent is struggling to battle a resurgence in coronavirus infections.

The rise of new strains of Covid-19, pandemic fatigue, the slow pace of vaccinations and the call by businesses to reopen battered economies are among the reasons for the rebound of the virus in many countries.

The Straits Times correspondents examine the situation around the region.


Cases keep rising in Japan, with no end in sight

Sushi chef Mamoru Sugiyama's family business has weathered natural disasters, World War II bombings and recessions, but he regards the Covid-19 pandemic as the biggest threat to the survival of his 130-year-old restaurant.

The 67-year-old fourth-generation owner of Sushi Ko in Tokyo's high-end Ginza shopping district told The Straits Times that the biggest challenge is uncertainty over the future and how long Covid-19 will drag on.

As government grants were limited, he had to dip into his savings to keep the business afloat and pay staff salaries. Revenue has fallen by 70 per cent since the pandemic started.

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Fourth wave looms in South Korea

As the months drag on and Covid-19 infection figures rebound despite more curbs being imposed, student Lee Sun-young is starting to lose heart in the fight against the coronavirus in South Korea.

"I am tired of all the Covid restrictions, especially mask wearing and the ban on overseas travel," the 25-year-old told The Straits Times.

"I'm still worried about Covid but as the weather gets warmer, it seems everyone, not just myself, is neglecting quarantine measures. That is a big problem," she added.

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Call to ban Hari Raya exodus for 2nd year in Malaysia

Malaysia's Covid-19 infection rate has risen in recent days at the start of Ramadan, with experts asking the authorities to ban the annual Hari Raya exodus to home towns for a second year to prevent a new surge in cases.

The government raised eyebrows when relaxations to rules were announced for the Muslim fasting month, including allowing Ramadan food bazaars and evening prayer services in mosques, and letting restaurants open until 6am.

It has not made a decision on whether to allow the "balik kampung" exodus this year.

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Rising cases put Phuket's reopening under scrutiny

The beaches and bars on Phuket, once teeming with tourists, have been quiet since the Covid-19 pandemic decimated the travel and tourism industry on the popular holiday island, but Thailand is now looking to rapidly inoculate island residents so tourists can return.

The government will vaccinate most of the island's 400,000 population, including foreigners who are residents, as part of sandbox plans to reopen Phuket to vaccinated foreign travellers on July 1, and to other tourist hotspots including Koh Samui in October.

"If we can build immunity for 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine," Phuket Vice-Governor Piyapong Choowong told Reuters.

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India's virus fight thwarted by big rallies, religious gatherings

What went wrong in India on the Covid-19 front?

Quite simply, people were confused by the contradictory messaging because mass gatherings were taking place, even as officials were threatening lockdowns and pleading with residents to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary.

Large election rallies, where social distancing was ignored, took place in five poll-bound states, including Tamil Nadu.

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Migrant workers, fearful of lockdowns, head home in India

It still hurts when Mr Balaram Nayak recalls how he endured the Indian government's poorly planned lockdown announced in March last year.

"Nobody was there to listen to us, neither from the government nor the police. Even the owner of the factory abandoned us," said the migrant who worked at a lace factory then in Surat in the western state of Gujarat.

Stranded more than 1,600 kms away from his home in Odisha's Ganjam district, Mr Nayak, 21, survived on money he borrowed from his family and others, as well as handouts from locals, before managing to get on a bus home in May. He went hungry on certain days and even got beaten by the police once when he stepped out to buy vegetables.

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Lockdown in the Philippines slows spread of virus but devastates jobs

The Philippines is coming out of another hard lockdown and signs are it may have succeeded in putting a break to an alarming resurgence in coronavirus infections.

Latest Health Ministry figures showed the number of daily Covid-19 cases was down to about 8,000 in the past two days, from as high as 15,000 in recent weeks.

The virus is also not spreading as fast as it used to, according to data crunchers. But the cost has been devastating to an economy that ratings firm Moody's believes is already in "a worrisome state".

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