By Mei Mei Chu and Artorn Pookasook
KUALALUMPUR/BANGKOK -Thailand reported a record number of coronavirus infections on Monday, while neighbouring Malaysia has more than a million, as the virulent Delta variant carves a deadly path through Southeast Asia, now a global epicentre for the virus.
Thailand’s 15,376 new cases were a daily high for a second consecutive day in the nation of more than 66 million.
Malaysia, which has one of Southeast Asia’s highest infection rates relative to its population, passed the one-million mark on Sunday, with a record 17,045 infections, despite being under lockdown since June.
Like many parts of the region home to more than 650 million, Malaysian hospitals and medical staff have taken the brunt of the outbreak as beds, ventilators and oxygen run short.
Thousands of Malaysian contract doctors staged a walkout on Monday, but pledged patients would not be affected by the protest.
“Almost 150 medical staff have resigned this year because they are fatigued with the current system,” said a doctor at a protest in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, who gave only his first name, Muhammad.
The doctors, who want permanent postings, as well as better pay and benefits, said an offer by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to extend their contracts did not go far enough.
Malaysia has outpaced many neighbours with its vaccination campaign, however, as about 16.9% of its 32 million people have been fully inoculated.
Last week, Thailand imposed tougher lockdown measures in the capital, Bangkok, and 12 high-risk provinces, suspending most domestic fights and widening the areas subjected to curfews.
The government has faced public criticism over the pace of its vaccination rollout, with only 5.6% of the population fully inoculated.
“I believe that the virus can be eliminated from the country if everyone is vaccinated,” said 48-year-old Charn, who was accompanying an elderly relative getting a vaccine dose at a Bangkok train station and declined to give his full name.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s most populous nation, with more than 270 million people, also has its biggest caseload. It has reported more than 3.1 million infections and 83,000 deaths.
Still this week it said that although curbs would be extended by a week, some measures would be relaxed, allowing traditional markets and restaurants with outdoor areas to re-open.
Hospitals have been filled with patients in the past month, particularly on the densely populated island of Java and in Bali, but on Sunday President Joko Widodo said infections and hospital occupancy had declined, without giving specifics.
“The decision doesn’t seem to be related to the pandemic, but to economics,” said Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, urging people to follow health protocols.
Indonesia’s death toll set records on four days last week, culminating in 1,566 on Friday, as authorities pledged to add more intensive care units.
After having reined in the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has faced a renewed outbreak, with southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces accounting for most new infections.
Since June, infections have surged in Myanmar, already in turmoil after February’s military coup. Sunday’s 355 deaths were a record, while daily cases topped 6,000 last Thursday.
In the Philippines, authorities have been scrambling to curb the spread of the Delta variant.
Infections have recently started to rise and authorities this week suspended travel from Malaysia and Thailand, as well as tightening curbs in the area around the capital, Manila.