KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 — After dodging the worst of Covid-19 since the pandemic surfaced last year, many of Asean member nations now appear to be grappling with the rapid surge in infections following the emergence of new variants especially the Delta variant.
On Friday, Indonesia logged 54,000 new daily cases, while Malaysia (12,541), Thailand (9,692), Myanmar (6,194), the Philippines (5,676), and Vietnam (3,336). All states, except Singapore and Brunei, have witnessed a rising trend in the number of new cases.
While the grouping’s member states have ramped up their vaccination drive with Malaysia leading the pack by doling out more than 400,000 doses a day, to be out-performed in the past week only by Canada among countries of a similar size or greater, yet there is nothing to slow down the rise in new cases.
Now, what could be the underlying reason for this?
A Malaysian academician Prof Dr Zaid Ahmad from the Department of National Studies and Civilisation, Universiti Putra Malaysia says this could be due to the fact non of the Asean countries have achieved herd immunity as yet.
“While the vaccination numbers may look impressive, without the herd immunity we are still nowhere. This means Asean has to double its efforts to achieve the herd immunity soonest,” he said when contacted by Bernama.
According to the latest data collected by OurWorldInData.org, among 10 Asean member countries, Singapore has the highest vaccine coverage with 42.4 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, followed by Cambodia (24.5 per cent), Malaysia (13.1 per cent), Laos (9.4 per cent), Indonesia (5.9 per cent), Thailand (4.8 per cent), Brunei (4.3 per cent), Philippines (3.7 per cent), Myanmar (2.8 per cent), Vietnam (0.3 per cent). To achieve herd immunity, at least 80 per cent of the population has to be fully vaccinated.
For Prof Dr Zaid, achieving the herd immunity soonest is crucial in not only stemming the rising new cases but also in turning the pandemic into endemic at the least.
Thus, he stressed that cross-border cooperation among Asean member countries needs to be enhanced when responding to the pandemic particularly on Covid-19 relief efforts and ensuring ample vaccine supply throughout the region.
“As a block, Asean member states cannot be working in silos in controlling the spread of new variants,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senior Analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Harris Zainul said there is no single vaccine approved by every member state which he said will be the first hurdle in addressing issues related to vaccine supply or sharing and even in recognising vaccine passport.
“Even if we were to treat the Covishield vaccine similarly to an AstraZeneca vaccine, only 80 per cent of member states have approved it for domestic use.
“Meanwhile, other vaccines namely the ones produced by China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac are recognised only by seven Asean states,” he said.
Also, the common recognition of vaccines is the first step towards overcoming difficulties associated with vaccine passport recognition, regardless of whether it is physical or digital.
On the implications of a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic on the region, Prof Dr Zaid fears millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty due to unemployment and financial stress.
The lockdown imposed to contain the virus is also contributing to mental stress, abusive behaviour and a host of social issues.
“What makes me really worried is the education sector that has been badly affected by the pandemic and its implication will be seen in the long term,” said Prof Dr Zaid adding that a prolonged pandemic will also lead to political instability and a slow post-pandemic recovery.
Speaking of post-pandemic recovery, Harris notes that the Asean Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) endorsed in 2020 recognised that the pandemic is still evolving, and hence the framework’s approach towards recovery will be proactive, flexible, and agile to respond to changing conditions.
“This should sufficiently insulate the ACRF from short- and medium-term shocks, meaning that it is still very much relevant today as back then,” he said.