Return of scanners, calls for masks in these Asian cities as Covid cases surge | World News


Governments across Southeast Asia are bringing back measures to limit a rapid resurgence of respiratory infections such as Covid-19, including installing temperature scanners at airports and encouraging people to wear masks again.

representative image (AP)
representative image (AP)

The goal is to slow the spread of a variety of germs, as a confluence of Covid, flu and other respiratory pathogens may set off wider outbreaks that ultimately stretch healthcare systems.

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But it can be a fraught process, with the public highly attuned to the risk of draconian measures, which were put in place early in Asia at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and which lasted for much longer than in other parts of the world, coming back.

Signs of that tension emerged earlier this week when Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong took to Facebook to say there had been “misinformation circulating on various networks that the government is looking to reinstate a circuit breaker.” “These are all falsehoods,” he said.

Covid cases on the island nation, or at least the ones that have been reported, jumped to 32,035 in the week ended Dec. 2 from just over 22,000 the previous week, according to Singapore’s health ministry.

“The increase in cases could be due to a number of factors, including waning population immunity and increased travel and community interactions during the year-end travel and festive season,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement. Cases involving the JN.1 variant, a sublineage of BA.2.86, currently account for around 60% of Covid cases in Singapore.

While Singapore authorities said there’s no indication that the BA.2.86 or JN.1 variants are more transmissible or cause more severe disease, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the continued emergence of JN.1 suggests that it’s either more transmissible or better at evading immune systems.

However, at this time, “there is no evidence that JN.1 presents an increased risk to public health relative to other currently circulating variants,” the CDC said in a Dec. 8 statement.

Officials in Indonesia meanwhile have reinstalled thermal scanners at some border check points, the Straits Times newspaper reported Wednesday. They include Jakarta’s main international airport and the Batam ferry terminal.

Indonesia’s health ministry has also urged Indonesians to postpone traveling to areas that are reporting a spike in Covid-19 cases, “complete their two-dose vaccination, wear masks and wash their hands and stay home should they fall sick.”

In Malaysia, Covid cases have almost doubled in a week, increasing to 6,796 in the week ended Dec. 2 from 3,626 the previous week. Authorities in Malaysia have said the situation is under control and isn’t burdening healthcare facilities.

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