Asia has been using COVID-19 in Bay for 2 years. Omicron can change that

When Omicron variant of COVID-19 emerges This fall, governments in East and Southeast Asia reverted to a tried-and-true strategy to prevent it: They doubled down on border restrictions. Japan bans entry to nearly all foreigners — including students who have been admitted to the university. The Philippines has banned foreign nationals from countries with local Omicron cases. Thailand ends programs that allow tourists to enter without quarantine.

But the border closure did not prevent the emergence of the Omicron variant. Many countries across Asia are reporting a spike in infections. Japan’s COVID-19 case hits the mark 20,000 won one day, approaching record numbers caused by the Delta variant in August. In the Philippines, the total daily case count approaches 37,000 – almost double the previous high in September. COVID-19 cases in Singapore and Indonesia have started to rise, although they have not yet risen.
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In the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, borders in the region remain severely restricted. But many experts question whether continuing to close to tourists, students and business travelers is an effective strategy to reduce COVID-19 that Omicron has taken over – with evidence suggesting it is more contagious, although potentially with less severe symptoms.

“There is very little [effect] Dr Ooi Eng Eong, an infectious disease specialist from Duke Medical College-National University of Singapore, said: “This is how a very contagious virus would spread, but really we have There is little that can be done to prevent it, except to vaccinate the population.”

Why is Asia successful?

Asia travel restrictions map
Cans of Tweeten / TIMEAs the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, most of East and Southeast Asia remains closed to visitors. Border restrictions helped the region fight COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, but they did not prevent the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Asia’s COVID-19 strategies — border closures, quarantine requirements, pervasiveness masked culture, along with vaccination campaigns — which have worked very well so far. Japan, which struggled with a wave of Delta variants after the Tokyo Olympics, has recorded 15 deaths per 100,000, while South Korea has 12 deaths per 100,000. Hong Kong, which continues to pursue a “no COVID” strategy to eliminate all infections, has reported fewer than 13,000 cases per 7.5 million people and a death rate of 3 per 100,000. people. In mainland China, where COVID-19 was first discovered, only 4,600 deaths were reported out of 1.4 billion people — a mortality rate close to zero. Opposite, 259 number of deaths per 100,000 people in the US Mortality rate in Germany, won praise of the major European countries in terms of COVID-19 handling, is 139.

In countries with high vaccination rates – like Japan, where nearly 80% of the population is fully vaccinated – experts predict deaths will remain low during the Omicron wave, even as infections spike compared to previous periods. The number of infections per capita in Japan is still low compared to Europe and the US — this could be evidence of the effectiveness of vaccines, masks and social distancing.” Dr. Taro Yamamoto, professor of international health at Nagasaki University, said.

However, Hong Kong is not having a chance. City Restrictions on importing COVID-19 already have some of the strictest in the world, including a mandatory 21-day quarantine for most travelers. Only a small number of Omicron infections in the community — believed to have originated from two Cathay Pacific Airways flight attendants who later fired and then arrested—Let the contours close even more tightly. The financial hub, which once boasted one of the 10 busiest airports in the world, has now banned all flights from eight countries including the US and UK, and banned travelers from more than 150 countries and territories making connecting flights through the city.

Fewer than 100 cases of Omicron have been found in the city to date. However, just five days after 2022, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced social distancing restrictions reminiscent of those imposed in 2020 — the closing of gyms, spas, and spas. and other businesses that require close contact between customers and suppliers; strict limits on the number of people who can gather in public; and a 6pm curfew to dine at the restaurant. About 3,000 visitors and close contacts of infected people is being detained at a government quarantine center outside Hong Kong Disneyland.

Calculate the cost of closing the border

Image of quarantine and death in Asia
Cans of Tweeten / TIMEDeath rates from COVID-19 across Asia have been significantly lower than rates in the US and Europe.

The Chinese territory’s zero tolerance for COVID-19 cases is motivated at least in part by Beijing’s demands to reopen its borders with mainland China — which has enacted measures active containment, testing, and tracking to prevent COVID-19.

But this border closure has come at a heavy price. For Hong Kong, the three-week quarantine has crippled its status as a global destination and travel hub. International tourism is a major contributor to the Thai economy. shrink 6% by 2020, according to the World Bank, and is estimates only 1% growth in 2021. Tourism-dependent businesses across Asia have been affected. Lee Kyusung, a bar owner from Seoul, South Korea, said he sees fewer of his foreign customers, who make up at least 40% of his regular clientele.

While some places, like Singapore, have reopened their borders to vaccinated travelers from other countries, most have imposed restrictions on travelers regardless of vaccination status. That’s because there is growing evidence that current vaccines are less effective at stopping the spread of Omicron than earlier variants. Even so, they are still effective in preventing severe COVID-19 and death.

Good and bad news – about vaccines

To complicate matters, a small study found that one of the most popular vaccines in the region may be particularly ineffective at stopping Omicron transmission. The research in the laboratory of the University of Hong Kong and scientists from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in November, analysis of blood samples from 25 patients who received two injections CoronaVac — an inactivated vaccine manufactured by Sinovac of China. It found no samples that produced enough neutralizing antibodies to suppress the Omicron variant. For the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine, only five of the 25 samples produced sufficient antibodies. (More neutralizing antibody levels supposed to provide more protection against symptomatic COVID-19.)

Sinovac’s shot is one of two widely used vaccines in China, where 2.9 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. It is also the most used vaccine in Indonesia. Philippines received more than 50 million doses vaccines from China.

But Leo Poon, University of Hong Kong, says policymakers should take into account data from other countries, which suggest an increase in Omicrons is likely to put less strain on the healthcare system if highly vaccinated population. “I think that’s good news and this is the most important message,” he said. “People have to understand that.”

For countries with high vaccination rates, like Japan, many infectious disease experts say it’s time for politicians to drop tough restrictions on international travel. “Japan’s approach to border control – closing the border – no longer makes sense,” said Kenji Shibuya, Research Director at the Tokyo Policy Research Foundation. “I think it’s a political gesture.”

Not every country has that luxury. According to World Health Organization data, Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, is fully immunized only 43 percent of its 274 million population. The Philippines has a vaccination rate of 47%. In Myanmar, the rate is 30%.

“We need to try to help these people,” Poon said. He urged countries with a surplus of vaccines to do more: “If you have a vaccine, give it to others.”

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