During much of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southeast Asia seemed one of the few bright spots in the world. Vietnam, a lower-middle income country that had learned from its experience with SARS, had one of the lowest case and death rates in the world. Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, and even poorer countries in the region like Laos and Cambodia, which had weak public health systems, mostly kept the virus at bay, even as wealthier states in Europe, North America, and Latin America suffered millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths. To be sure, Indonesia and the Philippines struggled, but the region’s overall low rates even made some scientists question whether people in mainland Southeast Asia had some natural immunity to the novel coronavirus.
Now, many Southeast Asian states have experienced troublingly sharp new surges in cases, and some countries like the Philippines could wind up as COVID disasters similar to India. For more on Southeast Asia’s devastating new COVID spike, see my new article in the Japan Times here.