The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe economic disparities globally. Specifically, those living on the Asian continent have experienced significant economic damage and hindrance to their broad economic goals. About 15 million Southeast Asians have become impoverished since the onset of the pandemic in 2019. The delta variant, along with a resurgence of national lockdown measures, has caused another case of economic damage. Through analyzing COVID-19’s effects on Asia’s economy, it is clear that the continent can implement strategies in order to combat these high rates of poverty and economic disparity.
Low Vaccination Rates
Overall, Southeast Asia has lower-than-average vaccination rates compared to the rest of the world. However, some Southeast Asian countries have better vaccination rates than others. Singapore has the highest vaccination rate, at 77.3%, whereas Vietnam has the lowest vaccination rate at 7%. As Southeast Asia is Asia’s major area for good economic production, this has led to a decline in economic growth. These low vaccination rates have allowed COVID-19’s effects on Asia’s economy to be extremely negative as low-income countries have had low vaccine rates due to their economic disadvantage. Around 55% of individuals who live in higher-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one of two vaccination dosages whereas 1% of individuals who live in lower-income countries have received one of two vaccinations.
In Southeast Asia, as cases have risen due to the delta variant beginning in July 2021, strict lockdown restrictions have become reimplemented. The implementation of lockdowns worldwide in 2020 was common as countries felt this would be an effective way to quickly decrease the number of people who contracted COVID-19. Lockdowns were extremely effective in decreasing the spread of COVID-19; however, they also caused a negative effect on the global economy. In Asia, lockdowns caused a severe drop in retail sales. For example, vehicle sales in China have been steadily decreasing each month; more recently, they decreased by 11.9% in July 2021. Factories have also stopped production as a response to the surge of cases since July 2021. Southeast Asian countries have also had to enter lockdowns again. This has caused the negative effects of COVID-19 on Asia’s economy to resurface, with yet another decrease in retail sales.
The Delta Variant
The COVID-19 delta variant is more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain, causing a spike in cases for Southeast Asian countries that began in July 2021. The delta variant of COVID-19 has caused both a surge in COVID-19 cases worldwide and a resurgence of the 2020 economic downturn that came with the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of Southeast Asia’s low rates of vaccination have caused a spike in COVID-19 cases in addition to the delta variant, factoring into the reasoning behind the reimplementation of national lockdown measures.
A large and overarching goal of Asia in its entirety is to increase rates of vaccination in each Asian country as a response to this economic decline. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director of Southeast Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetraapal Singh, has a goal to have the Southeast Asian population 40% fully vaccinated by 2021. This strategy against economic disparity uses the COVAX initiative, a plan that WHO put in place that advocates for global access to COVID-19 vaccines. The COVAX initiative especially targets low-income countries and works to help them gain equitable access to not only vaccines but also to COVID-19 testing and treatments.
If Asia successfully increases its vaccination rates, there is hope that the Asian economies will be able to continue with their goals of economic growth.
– Francesca Giuliano