South-east Asia needs Covid-19 vaccine access to curb record deaths: Red Cross

Most South-east Asian countries including Thailand have been posting record Covid-19 infections or fatalities. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - South-east Asian countries need more help securing Covid-19 vaccines, as the region struggles to contain record infections and deaths driven by the Delta variant, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

The region escaped the worst when the pandemic erupted last year, but in recent weeks has seen the highest deaths globally, as soaring infections push fragile healthcare systems to the brink and expose sluggish vaccination rollouts.

"This Covid-19 surge driven by the Delta variant is claiming a tragic toll on families across South-east Asia and it's far from over," Mr Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific Director, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

It noted that most South-east Asian countries including Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia have been posting record Covid-19 infections or fatalities.

Malaysia on Wednesday (Aug 18) reported 22,242 coronavirus cases, a daily record, while Thailand announced 312 deaths, a record increase for a second day in a row.

Indonesia reported 1,128 fatalities, down from its worst levels above 2,000 late last month, but still the highest daily death toll for any country in the world.

Yet while countries like Canada, Spain and Britain have fully vaccinated more than 60 per cent of their people, and the United States more than 50 per cent, South-east Asian countries are well behind, according to a Reuters Covid-19 tracker.

By contrast, Indonesia and the Philippines, the most populous countries in South-east Asia, have only fully vaccinated around 10 to 12 per cent of their people, while Vietnam sits at below 2 per cent.

"In the short-term, we need much greater efforts by richer countries to urgently share their millions of excess vaccine doses with countries in South-east Asia, said Mr Matheou, adding that vaccine companies and governments also needed to share technology and boost production.

"These coming weeks are critical for scaling up treatment, testing and vaccinations, in every corner of all countries in South-east Asia," he said, adding that there must be a target for vaccination rates of 70 to 80 per cent.

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