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It’s not just India. New virus waves have hit developing nations

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It’s not just India. The fierce new waves of Covid-19 are sweeping other developing countries around the world, seriously straining their health systems and calling for help.

Countries ranging from Laos to Thailand in Southeast Asia and those bordering India, such as Bhutan and Nepal, have seen significant increases in infections in recent weeks. The increase is mainly due to more contagious variants of viruses, although complacency and lack of resources to limit the spread are also cited as reasons.

Last week in Laos, the Minister of Health seek medical equipment, supplies and treatment as cases jumped more than 200 times in a month. It̵

7;s Nepal seeing hospitals fill up quickly and run out of oxygen. Healthcare facilities are under pressure in Thailand, where 98% of new cases are from a more infectious strain of the pathogen, while some island nations in the Pacific are facing their first waves of Covid.


The Nepalese Army congratulates the victims of Covid-19 at the Kathmandu crematorium on May 1.

Photographer: Bikash Karki / AFP / Getty Images

Although nowhere near the population of India or inflamed, the reported peaks in these handful of countries are far steeper, signaling the potential dangers of uncontrolled spread. The resurgence – and for the first time outbreaks in some places that largely escaped the scourge last year – has increased the urgency of vaccine supplies to poorer, less influential countries and the prevention of a protracted pandemic.

“It is very important to realize that the situation in India can happen anywhere,” said Hans Kluge, regional director at The World Health Organization for Europe during a briefing last week. “It’s still a huge challenge.”

Globally, where are the cases that rise the most?

The virus threatens the developing world, less equipped to limit it

Note: The past month measures data as of May 2

Ranked by the change in newly registered infections in the last month in the previous month, Laos was in first place with a 22,000% increase, followed by Nepal and Thailand, with both cases a fresh number of cases jumped by more than 1,000% on a monthly basis.

Bhutan, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Cambodia and Fiji are also at the top of the list as they witnessed the outbreak of the epidemic at a high three-digit rate.

“All countries are at risk,” said David Heyman, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “The disease appears to be endemic and is therefore likely to remain a risk for all countries in the foreseeable future.”

On May 1, India reported a record 401,993 new cases in the previous 24 hours, while deaths peaked at 3,689 the next day. National hospitals and crematoria are working overtime to deal with the sick and the growing number of deaths. Complicating the crisis, healthcare facilities are also facing a shortage of medical oxygen, unable to treat suffering patients with coronavirus-infected lungs panting for air at their doorstep.

The sudden epidemic in Laos – a place where only 60 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic until April 20 and no deaths so far – shows the challenges facing some landlocked countries. Porous borders make it difficult to restrict illegal crossings, although entry is technically prohibited.


Airport officials unloaded Chinese-donated vaccines at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos, on March 31.

Photographer: Kaikeo Saiyasane / Xinhua / Getty Images

Communist-ruled Laos has ordered blockades in the capital, Vientiane, and banned travel between the capital and the provinces. The Minister of Health turned to neighbors like Vietnam for help on life-saving resources. Nepal and Bhutan have seen cases erupt, in part because of returning citizens. Nepal, which has identified cases of the new Indian variant, has limited resources to fight the virus. The Himalayan nation said so stopping most flights and turning large hospitals into Covid hospitals.

‘Very serious’

The situation is “very serious,” according to Ali Moqdad, chief strategic officer for public health at the University of Washington. “The new options will require a new vaccine and a booster for those already vaccinated – they will slow down pandemic control.”

Moqdad said the economic hardships of poorer countries make the battle even more difficult.

Thailand, which was trying to revive its ailing tourism industry, has just introduced a two-week mandatory quarantine for all visitors. The government’s forecast for tourism revenues by 2021 has been reduced to 170 billion baht ($ 5.5 billion), from expectations for January by 260 billion baht. Under pressure on the country’s public health system, authorities are trying to set up field hospitals to accommodate a flood of patients.

About 98% of cases in Thailand are from the option first identified in the UK based on a sample of 500 people, according to Yong Poovoravan, head of the Center for Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University.


Medical personnel are collecting swab samples to test for Covid-19 in Yala province in southern Thailand on May 1.

Photographer: Tuwaedaniya Meringing / AFP / Getty Images

Red zone

In Cambodia, more than 10,000 locally acquired cases have been detected in more than 20 provinces since the outbreak. The capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is now a “red zone” or a high-risk zone. In Sri Lanka, an island nation in southern India, authorities have isolated areas, banned weddings and meetings, and closed cinemas and pubs to reach a record jump after local New Year’s holidays last month. The government says the situation is under control.

Overseas in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago announced a partial blockade after daily events in the country reached a record high, closing restaurants, malls and cinemas by the end of May. The number of cases in the last month is about 700% more than the previous month.

This high level of increase is also observed in Suriname, on the northeast coast of South America. The cases in April increased by more than 600% compared to March.

Wrong direction

Covid infections and deaths have accelerated worldwide

After remaining relatively free of Covid, thanks to strict border controls, some Pacific island nations are now seeing their first wave. Cities in Fiji’s tourist hotspot have been blocked after the wider community contracted the virus from the military.

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