VANCOUVER: Most of East Asia and Oceania aced the battle with COVID-19 in 2020. By implementing strict measures rapidly and effectively, cases and deaths have been kept much lower than in the United States, Europe and South America.
Even the worst affected countries, Indonesia and the Philippines, stood far below the world average for COVID-19 deaths.
By the summer of 2021, this positive picture had weakened. The duration of the COVID-19 crisis and the emergence of the Delta variant changed the game and put stress on East Asia – a region that has been slow to develop or purchase vaccines.
New cases are rampant in Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand and Japan. The number of COVID-19 deaths has risen sharply across the region compared to 2020 figures, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia.
The East Asian and Oceanian model has fragmented into five groups, based on strategies (suppression, containment, mitigation), degree of international openness and use of vaccination.
THE COVID-ZERO GROUP
The first group, which has pursued a COVID-19 zero or elimination strategy, includes Australia, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Taiwan. This group demonstrates continued high control of the virus, very little community transmission and public support for strong government actions.
Vietnam, Brunei and Cambodia were also part of this group until July but have faced sudden Delta waves in July and August, triggering aggressive government responses.
In particular, Vietnam’s contact tracing methods have held up poorly against the Delta variant. By October, these three countries may regain control or fall into the fourth group.