Short of vaccines, Asia grapples with Delta-driven outbreaks.


By Mike Ives

In recent days, Indonesia has reported nearly twice as many coronavirus cases as the United States. Malaysia’s per capita caseload is roughly on par with those of Brazil and Iran. And the latest Covid surges in Japan and South Korea have prompted harsh new restrictions on movement there, effective Monday.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, the Delta variant is driving new outbreaks in places where transmission was once kept relatively low, but where the pace of vaccination has been too slow to contain the latest outbreaks. One result is that everyday activities are again being restricted, just as they were in the anxious, early days of the pandemic — even as the West edges back to normalcy.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, is a case in point. Its government once hoped that its archipelagic geography and youthful population would spare it a debilitating outbreak. But only about 13 percent of its 270 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and the rise of Delta is pushing its health system to the brink and forcing some patients to hunt for oxygen.

On July 3, the government closed mosques, schools, shopping malls and sports facilities on two of Indonesia’s major islands for two weeks. But the daily average of new cases — more than 33,000 as of Sunday — has continued to climb. Officials said on Friday that they would extend the same emergency rules to other islands.

Intensive care wards in and around the capital, Jakarta, have been operating at full capacity, and doctors who received the vaccine made by the Chinese company Sinovac have been falling ill or dying. The government has said it will administer a third dose, of the Moderna vaccine, to about 1.5 million health workers starting this week.

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