Covid-19: Slowing The Spread In Asia

On Dec 8 last year, China reported its first case of what would later be known as Covid-19. The global death toll has crossed 100,000, four months after China reported its first case. Here's a look at how Asia is coping with the outbreak.

CLOSING BORDERS

One of the first things the authorities can do is to close their borders to short-term visitors but this is no easy task.

It’s a drastic measure that can put a deadly pause on any country’s tourism industry.

Most governments first implemented partial travel bans by first blocking visitors from China and then expanded the restrictions when necessary to include travellers from other affected regions as the virus spread.

Short-term visitors from China were banned from entering Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Brunei by Feb 1, well before cases on the mainland reached 10,000.

However, some places were not as quick to implement global travel bans even after cases spiked in Europe, the Middle East and later, in the United States, by the end of March.

India was one of the first to close its borders to all short-term visitors on March 13, and also banned some other visa types.

One week later, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia followed suit.

In quick succession, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Laos, Brunei and Myanmar also barred short-term visitors from entering by end-March.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

Some authorities are also enforcing social distancing measures - from banning mass gatherings, closing schools to asking people to work from home. Some governments went a step further to impose partial or total restrictions on the movements of their people.

Responses from the authorities in Asia have varied - from incremental social distancing measures, including school closures, to partial restrictions of areas where cases are clustered to total restrictions on social movements.

Malaysia was the first country to enforce widespread movement restrictions for the entire population on March 18. Pakistan and India also went into lockdown on March 23 and March 25, respectively.

Singapore implemented “circuit breaker” measures from April 7 by closing all non-essential businesses and venues, and requiring the population to stay home as much as possible.

Another option for governments is to lock down partial areas of the country where cases are clustered. China’s unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding areas had a significant impact on minimising the number of new cases reported.

Vietnam and the Philippines also locked down some parts of their countries on Feb 14 and March 13, respectively.

On the other end of the spectrum is the incremental implementation of social distancing measures, such as bans on large gatherings and the suspension of activities for seniors who are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Closing schools is also part of social distancing measures implemented by some governments. Hong Kong closed its schools on Feb 3, making it the first place outside of mainland China to do so. Vietnam and Japan followed suit in February. Singapore was one of the last places in Asia to do so by requiring all students to do full home-based learning from April 8.

As the Covid-19 situation develops, governments are likely to adjust their responses. See the current situation

BORDERS

Singapore was among the first in Asia to impose on Feb 1 a ban on the entry of short-term visitors who had travelled to mainland China. On March 23, this ban was extended to all short-term visitors arriving from anywhere in the world. Only citizens, PR and long-term pass holders are allowed in. Work pass holders need to apply for approvals to enter.

MOVEMENT

Singapore has stepped up social distancing measures over time, from shutting down nightclubs and bars to closing schools and most workplaces.

It announced “circuit breaker” measures for April 7 to May 4, and later extended the period to June 1. During this time, workplaces providing non-essential services were closed and employees were required to work from home. Eateries can offer only takeaways and home deliveries. Students will do full home-based learning, and the June school holidays will start earlier on May 5.

Essential services such as the public transport, supermarkets and banking services will remain open. But the public is urged to stay at home as far as possible.

HEALTH

Stay-at-home notices have been used since early February for anyone who had travelled to affected regions. Close contacts of confirmed cases have been quarantined since the first case was announced.

FINANCIAL AID

Nearly $60 billion has been set aside by the Government to help Singapore ride out the storm. Measures include government subsidies for the wage bills of workers, a cash payout of at least $600 for every adult Singaporean and financing support for businesses.