South East Asian countries are experiencing their deadliest Covid waves to date despite the milder Omicron variant being dominant and high vaccination rates.
Here are the double-vaccination rates in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, plus New Zealand, with the U.K. included for comparison.
The graphs below show record highs of reported infections in each of these countries, particularly in South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand. They also show record levels of Covid deaths in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, though not yet in Thailand and Singapore. New Zealand has hit record deaths, though at a low level so far. Japan’s and Singapore’s curves (infections and deaths) appear to have peaked, whereas South Korea, Hong Kong and New Zealand are still on the way up. Thailand’s reported infections appear to have peaked but not yet deaths.
Up-to-date excess mortality data are not available for these countries yet so we can’t see what impact the Covid deaths are having on overall deaths. In many European countries the impact has been very low, making Omicron largely a phantom Covid wave, though quadruple-jabbed Israel has proven the curious exception.
In mainland China, which is still reportedly aiming for Zero Covid and putting cities of millions under lockdown, daily reported infections on Monday reached their highest level since the original Hubei outbreak, albeit with only 526 reported. However, these reflect outbreaks emerging in dozens of cities including Shanghai, the northern port city of Qingdao and the southern city of Dongguan. Will China (whose Covid data, we should note, have not been deemed trustworthy by many observers) finally have full scale outbreaks as seen across most of the globe over the past two years?
Why South East Asia had largely escaped the worst of the pandemic until Omicron (Singapore and Thailand had moderate Delta waves) has been something of a mystery. Early claims that they were aces at Test and Trace didn’t really stack up as the reason for their success (though led many countries to believe such a containment strategy should be achievable), as while South Korea’s efforts were heroic Japan’s were ordinary and there was no real difference in outcomes. Are there genetic, physiological or cultural reasons for the differences across world regions?
There are many unanswered questions in the pandemic. But that many countries would be having their deadliest waves after double and triple vaccinating their populations, and with what is supposed to be the mildest variant so far, was, I imagine, not part of anyone’s plan.