Governments in Asia-Pacific region scramble to deal with new Covid-19 wave

A medical worker conducts a test at a free Covid-19 testing site in Shah Alam, on May 27, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Asia-Pacific's resurgent Covid-19 wave claimed new records across the region on Thursday (May 27) as governments scrambled to impose new restrictions and ramp up vaccination drives.

Malaysia reported 7,857 new patients, its third straight day of record highs, as its largest state finally succumbed and joined the nationwide movement control order (MCO).

Sarawak, in the north-west of Borneo island, will be under the MCO from May 29 to June 11, beyond the June 7 expiry for the rest of the country. It has consistently recorded the second-highest number of new cases among the nation's 13 states.

Even then, experts believe the largely rural state has been under-testing. Positive test rates there are in the double digits, well above the World Health Organisation's prescribed 5 per cent.

Elsewhere, the MCO has so far failed to suppress the outbreak three weeks since it was first imposed in the Klang Valley, the most densely populated metropolitan area and epicentre of the current wave.

Another 59 deaths brought the total to 2,491, with more than 2,000 fatalities recorded this year.

With nearly 70,000 active cases and intensive care unit utilisation well above 90 per cent nationwide, the health authorities have issued a plea for private-sector medical practitioners to volunteer.

"The Health Ministry calls on health volunteers to get involved in helping to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. Volunteer manpower is much needed to lighten the load being borne by our health workers across the country," director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Thursday.

Malaysia's vaccination drive has picked up the pace only recently , with the current average of 90,000 doses administered daily triple the mark set at the beginning of May.

Health Minister Adham Baba said on Thursday that the government was mulling over fines for those who skipped inoculation appointments and mandatory vaccinations.

His ministerial co-chair of the immunisation programme, Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, said Malaysia would administer 150,000 daily doses by June.

But even that rate would fail to provide herd immunity to its 33 million residents by the end of the year as planned.

Thailand recorded a second successive peak in daily deaths, with 47 dying from Covid-19 on Thursday even as the King's sister bypassed the government to approve vaccine imports by the Chulabhorn Royal Academy, which she chairs and sponsors.

Thai health officials collect samples during a community Covid-19 nasal swab test drive at a parking lot in Bangkok, on May 24, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The decree signed by Princess Chulabhorn, the youngest sibling of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, came amid unease over a slow start to inoculate 70 per cent of the 66 million people living in Thailand. Only 1.5 million have received a jab since vaccinations began in March.

The government, which has insisted it must handle all vaccine imports, will next month start its mass immunisation drive that relies heavily on AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured locally by a company owned by the King.

Australia's second-most populous state, Victoria, will enter a lockdown on Thursday night after 12 new coronavirus cases were detected and 10,000 primary and secondary contacts identified.

The cluster in state capital Melbourne swelled to 26 patients, forcing a week-long lockdown on seven million Victoria residents, who will have to stay at home aside for essential business.

Taiwan has also reported another surge in its outbreak, with 671 new patients and a new high of 13 deaths recorded on Thursday.

The island is seeking to jump-start an immunisation programme among a previously apathetic population. It has received just 720,000 AstraZeneca shots and less than 1 per cent of its 23.5 million residents have been vaccinated. Taiwan has secured less than 20 million doses so far, well short of the necessary amount to achieve herd immunity.

With a new batch of 410,000 AstraZeneca doses arriving last week, its Central Epidemic Command Centre will begin inoculating front-liners on Thursday, before focusing on Taipei and New Taipei, the main source of outbreaks.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.