COVID-19: Asia responds as the pandemic worsens

As March ends, there were more than 700,000 global cases of COVID-19, with that figure increasing by hundreds every day. The United States, Italy, and China remain the three countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Nations across Asia are battling COVID-19 in the own ways and with varying degrees of success. The Asia Media Centre’s Graeme Acton wraps up the response – country by country.


While China’s battle with the coronavirus is by no means over, it has calmed, with active cases running at just over 2600. Deaths from COVID-19 stand at around 3,300, but the toll is rising at a far slower rate.

Over the weekend 45 new cases were confirmed, with all but one case being a Chinese national recently returned to the country from offshore.

Last week China announced that it was suspending entry to the country by foreigners and was halting almost all international passenger flights. The ban extends to all foreign residents of China, and those who have a valid visa.

Only diplomats are exempt. However, the foreign ministry said others who need to travel to China should apply for new visas at Chinese embassies or consulates elsewhere. New visas would be considered “for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs.”.

The country’s National Health Commission says a total of 693 cases have come into China from overseas to date, with nearly a quarter of those arriving in Beijing.

The NHC says China has reported only six confirmed cases of domestic transmission.


Singapore currently has over 840 COVID-19 cases, with three deaths reported.

Most new cases are imported, with Singaporeans returning home from Europe, the US and the Middle East.

The city-state has installed an impressive and coordinated infrastructure for dealing with pandemics, and it was prepared when the virus hit.

The country can test at least 2,000 people a day, with hundreds of contact tracers working to establish each patient’s case history. It has also developed a serology test that can determine whether or not a patient has antibodies for the virus in their system, meaning that they may have carried COVID-19 without developing any symptoms for it.

Quarantine is mandatory for those who have had close contact with confirmed cases, and over the weekend the increasing case numbers prompted authorities to place even more stringent limits of foreigners attempting to enter the country.

And sitting or standing too close to another person is now a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail or a substantial fine.

The new laws came into effect last week, meaning anyone who intentionally sits or stands less than one metre away from another person in a public place will be guilty of an offence. 


The country has nearly 9,500 cases of infection, including  more than 150 deaths since the first case was detected on January 20. More than 4,500 patients have released from quarantine after making a full recovery from the virus, and amid widespread praise for the huge testing regime instituted by health authorities.

In total, over 376,000 people have been tested. South Korea has been exporting test kits to a number of countries and has now been given preliminary approval from the FDA, allowing the export of kits to the US.


The country’s state media agency says about 2,300 North Koreans and two foreigners remain under isolation, after an earlier quarantine period ended for people without symptoms of COVID-19.

The official Korean Central News Agency says all but three foreigners were released, out of the reported 380 foreigners under quarantine.

The KCNA said those subject to "medical monitoring" were released from quarantine following the isolation period, and nearly three thousand people across the country remaining under the monitoring quarantine.

This marks the first time North Korea has unveiled the total number of people quarantined on a national level, although it has previously reported the figures by region. State media has had no report of the total number of people quarantined and then released since quarantine restrictions began.  

"The national anti-virus emergency system in our country is being strengthened even further as the Covid-19 virus is spreading rapidly to nearly all countries and regions in the world," the KCNA said.

North Korea is yet to report a single case of virus infection, despite sharing a long border with China. It also lacks key medical supplies and the public health infrastructure to effectively treat large numbers of infected patients.


The administration in the capital Nay Pyi Taw seems only now to be waking up to the risks from COVID-19 faced by Myanmar’s population, with a government spokesman earlier insisting that Burmese “lifestyle and eating habits” would keep people safe. Tests completed are reportedly still only in the hundreds, with just eight infections detected, and no deaths reported.

Last week the government mandated that all Myanmar nationals entering the country of 51 million would be quarantined for 14 days in a state facility, with foreigners required to show a clean bill of health from a registered clinic before entering the country.

In the days before that order, thousands of migrant workers returned to the country from neighbouring Thailand, through one of dozens of border entry points

The country’s healthcare system has been consistently ranked by the WHO as among the world’s worst, after decades of neglect under military rule.

Cities such as Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay have functioning hospitals and primary care structures, however much of the country lacks access to even basic healthcare.


There have been  more than 180 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Vietnam, but no deaths have been reported.

Around 2000 patients have recovered. Most positive cases are in the capital, Hanoi.

The Ministry of Health says the country is following a five-step plan to defeat the virus – including early testing and isolation of patients - and says it feels comfortable with its response.

The Vietnam Military Medical University and tech firm Viet A Corporation have developed a test kit allowing diagnosis of coronavirus infections within one hour. The test kit has now been licensed for commercial production.


COVID-19 cases in The Philippines have now topped 1400, with more than 70 deaths reported.

The northern part of the country remains in lockdown, including the capital Manila,and the rest of Luzon Island, home to half the population of 104 million.

Mass gatherings are prohibited, schools shut down and all public transport has been suspended. However, the operations of essential services such as hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets are continuing. Police have reportedly arrested hundreds of people for violating the lockdown in recent days, and there are warnings the health system may collapse unless the lockdown is effective in halting community transmission.

Local authorities estimate that closures in retail, malls, airports, cancelled flights, and closures of manufacturing operations within the island of Luzon will result in at least 60 thousand people losing their jobs. Some estimates are as much as a million people may be at risk of losing their livelihood.

Health workers in Manila and elsewhere on Luzon are reporting chronic shortages of medical supplies and personal protective equipment in dealing with COVID-19 patients.


Dozens of new cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus were confirmed in Taiwan over the last few days, bringing the total to more than 280 since the pandemic began.

To date just two deaths have been reported, testament to Taiwan’s quick response to the disease when reports first started coming out of China in December.

By mid-January, Taiwan had announced that human-to-human infection was a possibility, and immediately moved to impose border controls.  

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said the overwhelming number of new cases being reported are from people returning to Taiwan from offshore. More than 240 cases have been classified as imported, while the other 42 are believed to be local infections, the CECC said.

Authorities say Taiwan is now bracing for an expected second wave of infection, arriving from Europe and the US.


Thailand currently has more than 1500 cases of infection and has reported nine deaths.

Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health has announced various measures against the distribution of coronavirus such as postponing the popular Songkran Thai New Year holiday, and temporarily closing event venues like sports stadiums, pubs, nightclubs, and cinemas.

The Thai government has estimated than some 800,000 jobs in the country’s booming tourism industry could be at risk from the virus.

Last week an “Emergency Decree” was enacted, banning entry to all foreigners until at least April 30- the exceptions being diplomats, drivers, pilots and other individuals specified by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Further measures are expected to be announced in the coming days, and the Prime Minister has confirmed the current state of emergency in the country may be upgraded to a “total lockdown”.


COVID-19 cases in Indonesia are currently just over 1280, with the death toll now over 100.

Pressure is building on the government to announce a lockdown, as community transmission of the virus across the country over 264 million shows no signs of slowing.

Most cases are in the capital, Jakarta, with other significant outbreaks on Sulawesi, and in other cities on Java.

The Health Ministry’s disease control and prevention director general, Achmad Yurianto, announced on Saturday that authorities had recorded 1,155 cases of COVID-19 across 29 provinces, with 102 deaths from the disease. At least 59 patients have recovered.

“We are still concerned about this situation because this is proof that transmissions are still occurring. People with the virus are still out there and having close contact with other people,” said Yurianto, who also serves as the government’s spokesperson for COVID-19-related matters.

The country’s fatality rate, the ratio of confirmed cases to fatalities, is 8.33 percent – the highest among Southeast Asian countries.

President Joko Widodo has resisted a nationwide lockdown, citing social and economic concerns. Calls for an immediate lockdown have come from across the board, with doctors, politicians and social agencies demanding movement of people be halted as soon as possible.

Widodo has instead called on the public to stay at home, and established a "COVID Taskforce” to implement increased hospital and lab testing capacity.

The President has also told state governors to divert funds in local government budgets towards fighting the virus outbreak.

"Travel budgets, meetings, and other expenditures that are not felt directly by the community must immediately be cut, because our current fiscal condition is not an easy condition," Jokowi said.


The COVID-19 toll in the country has increased to 34 deaths and more than 2400 infections, according to the country’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre.

Most infections have been centred in the western Selangor State, and the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia currently has the highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia, with a nationwide lockdown still in place.

The spike in cases was linked to a large religious event in the country, attended by around 12,500 people, including many from neighbouring nations Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore.


Japan has announced a ban on entry from most European nations, as well as Iran, following an every-increasing number of patients.

More than 1800 people have the virus, with 54 deaths recorded.

The visa suspension does not include foreigners registered as residents for work or study, who will be be quarantined for 14 days.

The country is yet to impose a lockdown, but shops and offices have been closed to help with social distancing and a work-from-home policy.

On March 24, the Japanese government announced the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The announcement stunned the Japanese people, already reeling with the impact of the virus, and economists say the postponement is likely to significantly increase the cost of the Games, further adding to the pressure on the nation’s economy.


The country has marked 49 years of independence amid a nationwide lockdown which is being enforced by the military.

All transport systems have been closed, along with schools, businesses and government offices in the country of over 160 million people.

At least five patients have died from the virus, with around 50 people reported to be in hospitals. Testing for the virus has been minimal in some parts of the country

Authorities have also locked down all 34 Rohingya refugee settlements in the country’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar, as part of its effort to stem the pandemic. 

More than a million Rohingya have been told to stay inside their makeshift camps until further notice.

Meanwhile a group of scientists in Bangladesh have developed a cheap test kit it’s hoped can relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and clinics, and vastly increase the number of people being tested outside the main centres.


Latest COVID-19 stats from India reveal the country has reported more than 1100 cases, with 29 fatalities. 

Last week prime minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown, a huge undertaking in a country of 1.3 billion, where many people continue to live as daily-wage or casual laborers, and over 90 percent do not have written work contracts. 

Millions of migrant labourers are now on the move across India, returning to their homes with an uncertain future. Most shops are closed, there is no public transport, no pharmacies, and little in the way of a safety net for most of the country’s population.

Indian corporates have now moved to a work-from-home model for most employees, but under the lockdown many big employers like the auto industry and manufacturing have effectively been mothballed.

India has one of the lowest testing rates for the virus compared to other countries, with just around 10.5 tests per million people as of mid-March.

The Indian government has been dependent on foreign testing kits and has ordered millions of kits from Germany, however questions remain over the  country’s healthcare infrastructure, which may not be robust enough in the face of a major outbreak.

Data from 2017 shows India had less than 0.5 hospital beds per thousand people, and health authorities are voicing increased concerns over what will happen if the virus takes hold in the subcontinent.