Southeast Asian countries step up COVID-19 measures after spikes in cases

By Taryn Wilson.

Bangkok, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- After months of relatively low numbers of cases and little impact surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus in much of Southeast Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines were on Tuesday implementing emergency measures after experiencing spikes in the number of cases.

Thailand has experienced a sharp rise in cases over the past three days, which led to the government on Tuesday introducing stricter measures including the closure of entertainment venues such as pubs and bars, boxing stadiums, massage parlors and cinemas.

All public and private schools, universities, educational institutions will be closed from Wednesday for two weeks, while it has also been proposed that Songkran, the famous water festival in which most Thais travel to their home provinces to spend time with family, be canceled.

Authorities in some provinces have already scrapped Songkran celebrations, while the governor of Buri Ram declared a lockdown of the province in which all entering must self-quarantine for 14 days and a ban placed on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Thailand currently has 177 cases, with the past three days experiencing jumps of 32, 33 and 30 new infections respectively after months of relatively low numbers of sporadic cases. One person has died.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha appeared Monday night in a televised broadcast to reassure the public and defend the government’s handling of the outbreak.

Also in a televised address on Monday night, Malaysia’s new Prime Minster Muhyiddin Yassin banned citizens from going abroad and foreigners from entering from Wednesday until the end of the month.

Malaysians returning from overseas will have to undergo health checks and enter a 14-day self-quarantine. Public gatherings, including religious events, sports events and cultural and social activities will be prohibited, while schools and tertiary institutions will be closed.

“We have seen the sudden rise in COVID-19 cases in such a short time in other countries. I’m sure you don’t want the same to happen in our country. We cannot wait until the situation gets worse,” he added.

Malaysia currently has around 560 cases, with more than 300 thought to be linked to a gathering in a Kuala Lumpur mosque over Feb. 28-Mar. 1. The event was attended by 16,000 people and has also reportedly led to infections in Thailand, Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia.

The Philippines government has also taken strong measures with the stock exchange closed from Tuesday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte announced quarantine measures until Apr. 12 for the entire island of Luzon, which holds the capital of Manila and with 57 million inhabitants, more half the country’s population. There has been no date set for its resumption.

The government is trying to stop the spread of the virus, which has so far infected 142 people in the country, and caused 12 deaths with more undetected cases suspected.

Duterte on Monday approved more strict quarantine measures in the capital and throughout Luzon, forcing people to stay home, suspending work, closing establishments, and a setting a curfew from 8pm to 5am in Manila. EFE-EPA


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