Asian countries tighten COVID restrictions as cases rise and vaccine rollouts struggle


Several Asian countries are imposing tighter COVID-19 restrictions as much of the Western world lifts them.

Governments in parts of southeast and east Asia are struggling to ramp up their vaccination programmes, with some seeing recent spikes in locally transmitted COVID-19 cases after a general reduction.

In contrast, countries across Europe, such as the UK and Germany, and the US are steaming ahead with inoculating their populations and are seeing cases dip as a result.

This is the situation across the region:


The island nation has been widely lauded for its success in curbing the spread of COVID-19 despite close ties with China, with 14 deaths and 2,260 cases in total.

But the past week has been its worst since the pandemic started, with more than 1,000 cases discovered – mostly locally transmitted – sparking panic buying at supermarkets.

More on Indonesia

Soldiers were sent to disinfect Taipei main station as cases surge
Soldiers were sent to disinfect Taipei main station as cases surge

More than 600,000 people are now in medical isolation for two weeks and all schools will shut from Wednesday for a fortnight.

Only about 2% of Taiwan’s 23 million people have been vaccinated and diplomats have been told to try to speed up vaccine deliveries from other countries, such as the US.

President Tsai Ing-wen assured the public on Tuesday that vaccines bought abroad will “gradually arrive” and domestic development of a vaccine is progressing.


On Sunday, the city-state reimposed some of its tightest restrictions since it exited a lockdown in April last year.

Singapore has been one of the most successful countries in the world at containing the virus, with zero or single digit cases for months, but has recently seen a rising number of untraceable cases.

On Sunday, 38 locally transmitted new cases were recorded, with many coming from a cluster originating in airport workers – most who had been fully vaccinated with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Singapore has been placed under another lockdown
Singapore has been placed under another lockdown

The cases included four children who attended a tuition centre, with the health minister saying the Indian variant appears to affect children more, although not seriously.

On Tuesday, Singapore authorised the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-15 and extended the interval between doses for everyone from three to four weeks to six to eight weeks. Just over a fifth of its 5.7 million person population are fully vaccinated.

For four weeks, dining-in is banned, household visitors are limited to two from five, people have been told to work from home and schools have shut.

The World Economic Forum on Monday cancelled its annual meeting of the global elite due to be held in Singapore in August, having been moved from Davos in Switzerland.


On 11 May, social activities and travel between districts and states were banned until 7 June, and schools closed to prevent mass gatherings celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

But on Monday 45 new COVID deaths were reported, the highest daily fatality number so far, as well as 4,446 new cases, bringing the total to 474,556 cases and 1,947 deaths.

Malaysia has recorded the third highest number of infections in Southeast Asia, behind Indonesia and the Philippines. Nearly all at the moment are locally transmitted.

Malaysia had its highest daily death figure this week
Malaysia had its highest daily death figure this week

Hospitals are running out of ICU beds and the government kept changing its mind about which regions should have stricter restrictions imposed.

The health ministry said it may push for a total lockdown of Selangor, the most industrialised state and home to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, if cases continue to rise.

Critics have said the government has been slow in rolling out vaccines, with just under 4% of the 32 million person population having had at least one dose.


The worst-hit country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has recorded about 1.74 million COVID-19 cases and more than 48,000 deaths – although the numbers are thought to be higher.

Cases have been reducing since a February spike but it is feared the world’s fourth most populous nation is a COVID-19 “timebomb” after millions of people travelled across the country for the Eid holiday.

Indonesian Muslims returning from Eid holidays are being tested at roadblocks
Indonesian Muslims returning from Eid holidays are being tested at roadblocks

On Monday, roadblocks were set up to screen travellers returning from holiday as cases rose by 90% in some areas, with 4,295 new cases and 212 deaths that day.

The government has been trying to accelerate its vaccine rollout, but only about 3% of Indonesia’s 270.6 million person population has been fully inoculated.


Coming in behind Indonesia, the Philippines is Southeast Asia’s second worst-hit country, with more than 1.1 million cases and more than 19,000 deaths.

Restrictions imposed in April after a spike have been gradually eased to try to stop a recession and hunger, but religious celebrations in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation remain prohibited.

A very small amount of the Philippines' population has been vaccinated
A very small amount of the Philippines’ population has been vaccinated

The vaccine rollout, which started in March, has been slow, with about 0.2% of its 108.1 million person population fully inoculated.

President Duterte has said he is willing to sell government properties if pandemic funds run out and has threatened to jail mayors and village chiefs if they do not prevent gatherings and events.


A record daily number of 35 deaths were recorded in Thailand on Tuesday, including a two-month-old baby – the country’s youngest victim – and 2,473 new infections bringing the total to 127,184 cases and 649 deaths.

After a year of successfully containing outbreaks, the country is struggling with a third wave as infections have more than tripled and deaths increased sixfold since April.

Thailand has seen a case surge in prisons
Thailand has seen a case surge in prisons

Overcrowded prisons are currently fuelling the spike, with more than 70% of Monday’s 9,635 new cases found in eight prisons and detention facilities. More than 60% of inmates in a Chiang Mai prison tested positive.

Thailand’s justice minister is trying to secure vaccine doses from the health ministry to urgently vaccinate inmates and prison staff.

But a nationwide vaccine rollout has yet to begin, with about 1.2% of the 66 million person population fully vaccinated – mainly frontline health workers and people in high-risk groups.


A fourth COVID-19 wave has pushed Japan into a third state of emergency, with hospitality serving alcohol closed and business curfews in place.

There is a lack of staff and hospital beds, despite cases nationwide dropping to 3,680 on Monday, the lowest level since 26 April.

And a top medical organisation is the latest group to call for the Tokyo Olympics, due to start in July, to be cancelled.

Calls have been made to cancel the Tokyo Olympics for a second year due to the pandemic
Calls have been made to cancel the Tokyo Olympics for a second year due to the pandemic

Japan has avoided an explosive spread of the virus other nations have experienced, but the government has been criticised for its slow vaccine rollout.

Only about 3.5% of the 126 million person population has been vaccinated and technical glitches have slowed down mass inoculation sites in Tokyo and Osaka.

South Korea

Praised for its ability to get infection rates right down at the beginning of the pandemic with contact tracing and quarantine, South Korea is now facing a vaccine shortage.

The government wants to reach herd immunity through vaccination by November but only 2% of its 51.71 million people have been vaccinated.

A very small amount of the Philippines' population has been vaccinated
A very small amount of the Philippines’ population has been vaccinated

Variant cases have also been rising despite a two week quarantine for incoming travellers and a negative test before arrival, with the number of local transmissions higher than imported cases.

President Moon Jae-in is due to meet US president Joe Biden on Friday, where he is expected to ask for help to secure more US-made vaccines, and more quickly.

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