Asia got through the first wave of the virus last year with far fewer cases and deaths than Europe or the Americas, despite the outbreak starting in China. This year there has been some revival in cases as new variants have arrived. Vaccination rates are generally low by US and European standards, whilst Asian governments are very defensive. As a result, we see new and continuing restrictions on people, from mask wearing to curfews and from bans on social contact to more testing and tracing people with the illness.
Japan has had a long and unhappy debate about whether to allow the Olympics at all. The compromise was to allow the competitors to compete but to ban live public audiences in most venues. Despite this the Prefectures of Tokyo and Okinawa remain under emergency rules. This week Japan has considered extending the higher-level bans elsewhere in the country, as the daily case rate topped 14,000 for the first time, with the Prefectures of Hokkaido, Fukuoka and Aichi causing particular concern alongside Tokyo.
With some 33% fully vaccinated there are still many people at risk, with enough people urging the government to be cautious in its approach. With an elderly and declining population with a strong savings habit anyway, the virus is once again making people risk averse.
Korea, with around 15% of the population fully vaccinated, is also experiencing rising cases from a low level. The country has a four-level response to the virus, with Seoul at the highest level four which requires a curfew at 6pm on certain activities and a limit of meetings to two people. Some parts of the country on Level 3 with a limit of four people meeting and a curfew at 10pm may be pushed up a level. Indonesia has extended the Level four curbs in parts of the country until August 9th which stop people going out to work unless in essential occupations.
Rising from low base
The World-o-meter providing official figures on the pandemic so far still shows Asian countries at relatively low overall levels of cases and deaths. India is the worst of the majors, with 22,839 cases per million and 306 deaths per million. In contrast, China is one of the best with a stated 65 cases per million and 3 deaths. The leading western countries are typically well over 1,000 deaths per million and with tens of thousands of cases. Japan is now at 7,599 cases per million and 121 deaths. The highest figures remain in parts of Eastern Europe, South America and the Balkans.
The slow roll out of vaccines is sometimes down to reluctance by many to accept the vaccine, as in Japan, or to problems with supply as in Korea and even India. It seems that these countries are not likely to relax their guard until there has been much more success with vaccinations. All this means that recovery from Covid-19 is more drawn out and problematic. Central Banks have to decide how much allowance to give to the continuing negative effects of the virus by offering more support, and governments need to help out for longer.
Meanwhile, Asia is also held back by developments in China. The central bank there has until recently been tightening its stance. The government has unleashed a major assault on technology companies and substantial parts of the enterprise sector which has knock on effects to the rest of the region. The falls the Hang Seng and the Shanghai indices so far this year have been a drag on aggregate regional stock market performance.
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