Finally, after a long summer of tight restrictions on movement and frantic vaccination campaigns, the COVID outbreak that accelerated rapidly across East Asia appears to be breaking. Cases have been falling in Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia (which has seen perhaps the most progress) for at least a week, while outbreaks in Singapore, the Philppines and Vietnam remain at or near their peak levels.
With cases reaching a new daily peak, Singapore authorities - who have struggled to suppress the virus across the city state, where dormitories for migrant workers have proven potent staging areas for the virus - said they needed to "take quick action" to dampen the increasing likelihood of an "exponential rise" in COVID-19 cases, according to the Ministry of Health.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Lawrence Wong, co-chair of Singapore's COVID multi-ministry task force, said the transmission rate of COVID-19 has to be slowed down.
But first, Singapore will attempt to do so without going into another phase of heightened alert, he said.
"What is of concern to us is not just the absolute number of cases, but the rate at which the virus is spreading. And that’s the reproduction rate, or R."
"Currently, the R is more than one. Cases are doubling every week. And if we continue on this trajectory of infection, it means we could have 1,000 cases in two weeks, or possibly 2,000 cases in a month."
Wong's announcement comes three days after he said the country would start moving into a phase of "living with COVID" and there is no need to impose more restrictions, while also not immediately easing them, given the recent rise in cases.
In other news, with the Paralympic Games now over, Tokyo authorities said they found 968 new coronavirus cases on Monday. That's down by 947 cases (50%) from a week earlier. The number also shows cases falling below 1,000/day for the first time since July 19. However, the number of "serious cases" rose by 3 to 267. 6 of these cases were related to the Games, with volunteers set to leave on Monday. In all, 316 people have tested positive during the Paralympics, far less than what Japan saw during the main event.
With the Olympics finally over, Japan's Business Federation issued a set of proposals on Monday aimed at normalizing the nation's economic activity now that vaccinations are making steady progress. They're proposing that the vaccinated be excused from following quarantine lockdown rules. Then again, remember how well that worked out in the US?
The Philippines government has faced growing pressure from the business community as cases have continued to rise. So, in order to try and experiment with a different strategy, authorities in Metro Manila, home to 13MM people, are preparing to try "localized lockdowns", according to Nikkei.
Metro Manila, home to 13 million people, has been under stricter community quarantine restrictions since Aug. 6 to fight the spread of the delta variant. The government has imposed stay-at-home orders, while businesses like salons and gyms have been forced to close and restaurants are limited to delivery service.
The Department of Health on Monday also reported that the daily infection tally hit a record 22,415, the fourth consecutive day that daily cases have moved above 20,000. This brings the total cases to 2.1MM with 34,337 deaths. The department also reported increase in the 7-day moving average in Metro Manila. Guidelines for the lockdowns will be released Tuesday.
Vaccination campaigns continue in all the aforementioned countries, with Japan and Malaysia administering the most jabs per day relative to their population.
When it comes to offering more incentives to the vaccinated, a growing share of the ASEAN nations reopen their economies as the delta variant continues to drive new infections. Like in France and in certain parts of the US, vaccination status checks have become commonplace in Singapore. Indonesia and Malaysia are also hoping that more privileges for the vaccinated will help drive up vaccination rates.
And as Singapore and its neighbors explore alternatives to economy-crushing lockdowns, some novel solutions are being considered - like Singapore's new "robocop" that's programmed to root out "undesirable behavior".