Poised to live with Covid-19, Southeast Asia relaxes restrictions

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Sep 15 (EFE).- In its worst wave of the pandemic, Southeast Asia has resigned itself to living with Covid-19 and is committed to relaxing restrictions to revive the ailing economy and give its exhausted population a break.

Countries such as Vietnam, Thailand or Malaysia, which kept Covid-19 low in 2020, have been facing an exponential increase in cases for months due to the contagious delta variant, originally detected in India.

The Philippines, one of the region’s most affected countries, will begin implementing a pilot plan of more flexible restrictions Thursday in Manila, despite the country registering an average of 20,000 daily infections.

The new system will consist of alert levels that will allow the implementation of confinements and restrictions by zones.

The metropolitan area of ??Manila will have a less strict confinement, which will not affect people between 18 and 65, the nighttime curfew will be lifted and restaurants will be allowed to open, although with limited capacity.

The goal is to boost the economy, whose growth forecasts for this year have been lowered from 6-7 percent to 4-5 percent due to the latest strict lockdown in the capital that ended Tuesday.

However, the representative of the World Health Organization in the country, Rabindra Abeyasinghe, said authorities may be relaxing the restrictions prematurely.

“If there is a greater increase in the levels of contagion, it could cause a saturation of the hospital system,” Abeyasinghe said Tuesday, according to Rappler news site.

According to official data, 77 percent of intensive care beds are occupied and 57 percent of ventilators are in use in the country, figures that in Manila amount to 78 and 61 percent.

The pandemic and restrictions in the region have not only wreaked havoc on national economies, but also affected international supply chains.

Vietnam’s Planning and Investment Ministry lowered the economic growth target Tuesday to 3.5 or 4 percent, compared to the 6.5 percent that had been set at the beginning of the year.

According to the consultancy IHS Markit, South Korean manufacturer Samsung and Japanese company Toyota were affected by the closure of factories by Covid-19 in Vietnam, which has registered more than 610,000 infections and almost 16,000 deaths.

In addition, Vietnam’s European Chamber of Commerce said this month that 18 percent of its members in the country have moved part of their production to other countries due to restrictions.

Until May, Vietnam had been one of the most successful countries in containing the virus, with just 35 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but the emergence of the delta variant triggered infections and pushed the government to change its strategy to coexist with the virus.

In Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest urban area and the epicenter of the pandemic, with 80 percent of deaths, authorities have been planning a gradual reopening for weeks depending on the incidence of infections in each area and vaccines to relax the strict confinement in force since August.

“There has also been a disruption to the electronics supply chain due to Covid-19 shutdowns in Malaysia, where many finishing operations such as chip testing and packaging take place,” IHS Markit said in a Sep. 10 report.

With more than 2 million infections and 21,100 deaths, Malaysian authorities have taken pains to speed up vaccinations and have already inoculated more than 54 percent of its population with the complete dosage.

The Malaysian government, which this month relaxed restrictions against Covid-19, hopes to be able to fully reopen the economy by the end of October, when it is expected to have been able to vaccinate the majority of its adult population.

In Thailand, authorities relaxed restrictions in early September after more than a month, which meant the reopening of shopping malls, restaurants and shops, but not bars, gyms and schools in Bangkok and other provinces.

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