A new coronavirus wave inspired by the virulent Delta variant tightens its grip on the region
Indonesia has turned almost all of its oxygen production to medical use to meet demand from COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe. Hospitals overflowing in Malaysia had to treat patients on the floor. And in Myanmar’s largest city, cemetery workers are working day and night to meet the dire demand for new cremations and burials.
Images of pyre burning in the open air during the peak of the pandemic in India stunned the world in May, but in the past two weeks three Southeast Asian countries have now flagged India’s per capita death rate as a new coronavirus wave. Powered by the sparse delta variant, tightens its grip on the region.
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The deaths follow record numbers of new cases being reported in countries across the region, which have left health care systems struggling to cope and governments are implementing new restrictions to try to slow the spread. scrambling to do.
When Eric Lam tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized on June 17 in the Malaysian state of Selangor, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, the corridors of the government facility were already filled with beds of patients. It was crowded, there was no space left in the ward.
The situation was still better than some other hospitals in Selangor, Malaysia’s richest and most populous state, with absolutely no free beds and patients being treated on the floor or on stretchers. The government has since added more hospital beds and converted more wards for COVID-19 patients.
Lam, 38, remembered one time during her three weeks in the hospital when a nurse heard a machine beep for two hours in a row before coming in to shut her down; Later they came to know that the patient had died.
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Abhishek Rimal said several factors have contributed to the recent boom in the sector, including pandemic-weary people and precautions, low vaccination rates and the emergence of the delta version of the virus, which was first detected in India. , Asia-Pacific Emergency Health Coordinator for the Red Cross, which is based in Malaysia.
“The measures countries are taking, if people follow the basics of washing hands, wearing masks, keeping distance and vaccination, we will see a drop in cases in the next few weeks from now,” he said.
However, so far, Malaysia’s national lockdown measures have not reduced the daily rate of infection. Daily cases rose above 10,000 on July 13 for the first time in the country of nearly 32 million and have been living there ever since.
Vaccination rates remain low but are increasing, with about 15% of the population now fully vaccinated and the government expects the majority to be vaccinated by the end of the year.
The doctors and nurses are working tirelessly to make a continual effort, and Lam was one of the lucky ones.
After his condition deteriorated initially, he was put on ventilator in the ICU unit to capacity and gradually recovered. He was discharged two weeks ago.
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But he lost his father and brother-in-law to the virus, and another brother is on a ventilator in the ICU.
“I feel like I’ve been reborn and given a second chance to live,” he said.
With India’s vast population of around 1.4 billion people, its total COVID-19 death toll is higher than that of countries in Southeast Asia. But the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths per million in India reached 3.04 in May, according to the online scientific publication Our World in Data, and continues to decline.
Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia have been showing sharp growth since the end of June and their seven-day averages on Wednesday stood at 4.37, 4.29 and 4.14 per million respectively. Cambodia and Thailand have also seen strong increases in both coronavirus cases and deaths, but thus far the seven-day rates per million people are less than 1.55 and 1.38, respectively.
Individual countries have higher rates elsewhere, but the rise is particularly alarming for a region that has been keeping numbers low in a widespread pandemic.
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Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country with nearly 270 million people, reported 1,449 deaths on Thursday, the deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.
Daily cases were around 8,000 by mid-June, but then spiked and peaked last week with more than 50,000 new infections. Since the testing rate in Indonesia is low, the actual number of new cases is believed to be much higher.
As hospitals began to run out of oxygen, the government stepped in and ordered manufacturers to shift most production from industrial purposes and devote 90% to 25% to medical oxygen.
Before the current crisis, the country needed 400 tons of oxygen per day for medical use; With a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, daily use has increased five-fold to more than 2,000 tonnes, according to Deputy Health Minister Dante Saccano.
Although oxygen production is now sufficient, Lia Partkusuma, general secretary of the Hospital Association of Indonesia, said there were problems with delivery so some hospitals still face shortages.
In Indonesia, about 14% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, mainly Sinovac from China.
There is growing concern that Sinovac is less effective against the delta variant, and both Indonesia and Thailand are planning booster shots of other vaccines for their Sinovac-immunized health workers.
In Myanmar, the pandemic reversed the military’s seizure of power in February, sparking a wave of protests and violent political strife that ravaged the public health system.
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Only in recent weeks, as testing and reporting of COVID-19 cases have begun to recover, has it become clear that a new wave of the virus, beginning in mid-May, is rapidly increasing cases and deaths. is.
Its death toll has been climbing almost straight up since early July, and both cases and fatalities are believed to be seriously underestimated.
On Tuesday, the government recorded 5,860 new cases and 286 new deaths. There are no concrete statistics on vaccination, but from the number of doses available, it is thought that about 3% of the population could have received two shots.
Authorities pushed back on social media postings this week that cemeteries in Yangon were overwhelmed and could not keep up with the number of dead, inadvertently confirming claims that hospitals were flooded and that many people were dying at home.
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Cho Tun Aung, the head of the department that oversees the cemeteries, told military-run Mywadi TV news on Monday that 350 staff members will be in three shifts from July 8 to ensure proper cremation and cremation of people in Yangon’s seven major cemeteries were working.
He said workers cremated and buried more than 1,200 people on Sunday alone, including 1,065 people who died of COVID-19 at home and 169 who died in hospitals.
“We are working day and night in three shifts to interrogate the dead,” he said. “It’s clear that there is no such problem as posts on Facebook.”