Last week, Japan’s daily caseload surged to its highest since the pandemic began, surpassing 2,000 for five days in a row.
In South Korea, daily infections also rose from a relative lull in late September and October to hover above 300, the highest since late August.
Hong Kong, meanwhile, has declared its “fourth wave” of coronavirus infections, after multiple isolated clusters emerged. Its daily cases — still within single-digits in early November — exploded over the past week to reach 80 on Tuesday.
Even in mainland China, known for its “zero-tolerence” approach against the coronavirus, sporadic cases have sprung up in multiple cities, from the financial hub of Shanghai and the port city of Tianjin to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.
While the resurgence of the virus is certainly dispiriting as it dominates local headlines and leads to tighter restrictions ahead of the holiday season, the rise in cases in Asia seems more like a ripple compared with the second wave in the United States and Europe.
Despite their comparatively miniscule rise in infection numbers, Asian governments are taking no chances in efforts to curb the outbreaks.
On Monday, South Korea declared an “emergency period” in Seoul until the end of the year. Public transportation capacity has been reduced by 20% after 10 p.m. and gatherings of more than 10 people banned. The city will also conduct regular coronavirus tests on some 40,000 workers and users of nursing hospitals and daycare centers.
The measures come after a series of new restrictions were announced for Seoul on Sunday, including mandatory mask wearing indoors and closures of entertainment facilities such as clubs. Restaurants are only allowed to do deliveries and takeout after 9 p.m., gatherings will be limited to 100 people, and schools must operate at one-third capacity.
In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced last week that the country was on “maximum alert” after reporting a record number of daily infections. He also halted the government’s domestic travel and dining promotion program in coronavirus hotspots to curb further infections.
Easing restrictions prematurely
But it is not only measures that are being introduced now that matter. Asia’s comparative success in containing the coronavirus is a result of months of consistent policies, thorough implementation and public cooperation.
Throughout the relative respite of infections in the summer, countries in Asia have kept their borders shut, and in many places, the public have continued to wear face masks and maintain social distancing.
David Nabarro, a World Health Organization (WHO) special Covid-19 envoy, said unlike Europe, Asia did not relax restrictions prematurely.
“You must wait until case numbers are low and stay low,” he said, calling Europe’s reaction “incomplete.”
He warned that Europe could still see a third wave of infections in early 2021, if governments repeat the failure to do what was needed to prevent the second wave of infections.
“They missed building up the necessary infrastructure during the summer months, after they brought the first wave under control,” Nabarro said.
“Now we have the second wave. If they don’t build the necessary infrastructure, we’ll have a third wave early next year.”
Reuters contributed reporting.