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South Korea, Japan

Are Asia's Covid 'winners' entering shaky new territory?

The places that were best at keeping Covid at bay are now struggling with their exit strategies.

19/6/2021 5:00:00 AM

Asian countries which were able to get on top of COVID-19 in 2020 through aggressive actions like strict lockdowns and contact tracing are now being challenged by new issues.

The places that were best at keeping Covid at bay are now struggling with their exit strategies.

South Korea and Japan hit new heights in Covid waves a few months back - prompting alarm, particularly.People in Tokyo have taken to the streets calling for the Olympics to be cancelledHowever the rate of infection since those peaks has halved. For places like South Korea - which has never gone into a hard lockdown - experts say that vigilant tracing and a united community effort has once again helped to bring the curve down.

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Number of cases graphicSmaller outbreaks have also been recorded in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, prompting immediate reaction from authorities, such as a snap two-week lockdown of Melbourne or a four-week partial lockdown in Singapore.Vaccine stumbles

Yet while those recent outbreaks are being successfully tackled with trusted methods, they have also brought home a bitter truth.As much as the places in question succeeded in keeping the virus at bay, they were not nearly as successful when it came to securing vaccines.

Initial procurement was difficult around the globe yet it was often countries hit hard by the pandemic that quickly managed to get a vaccination programme going, if they could afford it. Those with low infection rates have appeared slow and complacent in securing enough jabs for their citizens.

Many countries in the region are far behind Europe and the USThe US and Europe for instance have vaccinated around half or more of their populations and many South American countries have administered millions of Covid shots. These nations are now slowly working their way to a vaccination level that will allow them to open up - even with the virus still around.

This has not been the case with the Covid success places in the Asia Pacific.The percentage of people vaccinated is still below a quarter of the population - and that's for rich countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the island of Taiwan where you would expect procurement to be as easy or difficult as for Europe and the US.

There is also hesitancy among some citizens, for instance in Hong Kong or Taiwan, who don't trust health authorities and vaccination safety, which is further slowing progress.GraphicThe only exception to that poor showing is Singapore, where some 42% have received at least one shot.

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Singapore however is a city state with just over 5 million people, so the actual number of shots given remains small. Compare that, for example, to India's 250 million doses.What's the exit strategy?With Covid-19 likely to become an endemic disease, the only way out for countries is through vaccination.

But until herd immunity is achieved, it appears that the Asian Covid stars are reluctant to loosen the strict measures that have worked so well for them - closed borders, lockdowns and social distancing rules.When Australia said its borders would remain closed until mid-2022, a public debate was sparked about how long it could remain a "hermit kingdom".

While there are no plans to fling the doors open, there is talk of gingerly stepping into a phased exit. Discussions are also under way about potential travel bubbles opening between various "safe" countries.The idea of a travel bubble has been floated between some Asian nations

Hong Kong and Singapore had talked of such a plan before it was scuppered by case outbreaks.And such a channel already operates between Australia and New Zealand - which both report almost no local cases on most days. However, both nations shut that channel whenever a new rash of cases emerge.

Experts have warned that with Covid so prevalent around the world, to have the nations truly be open, their societies have to do away with the idea of a "zero Covid" mentality which is unrealistic, and come to "live" with the virus.

People have called for a clearer exit strategy to be put in place - one with staged targets in sync with rapid vaccination programmes - but that is currently missing.TRENDING Read more: Yahoo Singapore »

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