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Southeast Asian nations struggling against coronavirus

Few Southeast Asian nations enacted serious measures to contain the coronavirus until their own number of cases starting climbing sharply. Indonesia, as the most populous country in the region, is the major concern, but all face challenges. Their limited capacity to do widespread testing means that official coronavirus counts are likely unrealistically low.

A look at the state of the coronavirus in Southeast Asia, with confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries through Monday:


8,014 cases, 11 deaths, 801 recoveries

The island nation’s small size and nanny state government quickly facilitated contact tracing and enforcement of restrictions. But its case totals exploded last week as the coronavirus rampaged through the tightly packed dormitories housing migrant workers who perform essential services.

INDONESIA: 6,760 cases, 590 deaths, 747 recoveries

The government did not confirm the first case until March 2, but Indonesia now has the most deaths from COVID-19 of any Asian country other than China. President Joko Widodo has acknowledged that the government kept the public misinformed about the state of the coronavirus in the country. But he has recently stepped up measures to combat the virus, though a lack of testing in the country of more than 260 million people remains a major problem.


6,459 cases, 428 deaths, 613 recoveries

President Rodrigo Duterte, known for his hardcore war on drugs, locked down the main northern island of Luzon by restricting travel to and from the region, which includes Manila, the capital. A national emergency was declared with tough penalties for disobeying quarantine and curfew orders. But enforcement was lax, and Duterte is now threatening martial law-style actions.


5,425 cases, 89 deaths, 3,295 recoveries

Malaysia’s cases started to spike in early March when hundreds linked to a mass religious gathering at a mosque outside Kuala Lumpur were diagnosed with COVID-19. The battle against the coronavirus was hindered by an unexpected change of government at the beginning of March, even though travel restrictions and closures of schools and nonessential businesses were ordered.


2,792 cases, 47 deaths, 1,999 recoveries

Thailand on Jan. 13 announced the first confirmed coronavirus case outside of China, a Chinese visitor from Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the pandemic started late last year. But with marginal daily increases in cases through the end of February, the government failed to act until two coronavirus clusters — from a social gathering and a kickboxing match in Bangkok — rocketed the numbers up, finally forcing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to declare a national emergency.


268 cases, no deaths, 214 recoveries

Vietnam acted relatively early to shut down travel from neighboring China and concentrated its efforts on contact tracing. Its heavily centralized one-party Communist government mobilized down to the local level to ensure community observance of virus-fighting restrictions.


The other four Southeast Asian countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos — each have fewer than 150 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Demographic and geographical factors minimize the threat in Brunei, a rich sultanate with a population of less than half a million, and Laos, a landlocked country with a widely dispersed population.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed confidence that his countrymen held virtual immunity to the disease and even discouraged the wearing of face masks until a flurry of cases among foreign tourists and the explosion of cases in Europe and the United States changed his mind.

There is little doubt that Myanmar’s poor health care system was responsible for its failure to report its first case until March 23, which inhibited earlier action to fight its spread.

Both Cambodia and Myanmar have since imposed travel and other restrictions, but remain ill-equipped to cope with any large coronavirus caseload.

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