It’s not just India. Fierce new Covid-19 waves are enveloping other developing countries across the world, placing severe strain on their healthcare systems and prompting appeals for help.
Nations ranging from Laos to Thailand in Southeast Asia, and those bordering India such as Bhutan and Nepal, have been reporting significant surges in infections in the past few weeks. The increase is mainly because of more contagious virus variants, though complacency and lack of resources to contain the spread have also been cited as reasons.
In Laos last week, the health minister sought medical equipment, supplies and treatment, as cases jumped more than 200-fold in a month. Nepal is seeing hospitals quickly filling up and running out of oxygen supplies. Health 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 Ocean are facing their first Covid waves.
Although nowhere close to India’s population or flare-up in scope, the reported spikes in these handful of nations have been far steeper, signaling the potential dangers of an uncontrolled spread.
The resurgence — and first-time outbreaks in some places that largely avoided the scourge last year — heightens the urgency of delivering vaccine supplies to poorer, less influential countries and averting a protracted pandemic.
“It’s very important to realise that the situation in India can happen anywhere,” said Hans Kluge, the regional director at the World Health Organization for Europe, during a briefing last week. “This is still a huge challenge.”
Ranked by the change in newly recorded infections in the past month over the previous month, Laos came first with a 22,000% increase, followed by Nepal and Thailand, both of which saw fresh caseload skyrocketing more than 1,000% on a month-over-month basis.
Also on top of the list are Bhutan, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Cambodia and Fiji, as they witnessed the epidemic erupt at a high triple-digit pace.
“All countries are at risk,” said David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “The disease appears to be becoming endemic and will therefore likely remain a risk to all countries for the foreseeable future.”
On May 1, India reported a record 401,993 new cases in the prior 24 hours, while deaths touched a new high of 3,689 the following day. The nation’s hospitals and crematoriums are working overtime to cope with the sick and the surging number of deaths. Compounding the crisis, healthcare facilities are also facing a shortage of medical oxygen, unable to treat distressed patients with coronavirus-infected lungs gasping for air at their doorsteps.
The abrupt outbreak in Laos — a place that only recorded 60 cases since the start of the pandemic through April 20 and no death to date — shows the challenges facing some of the landlocked nations. Porous borders make it harder to clamp down on illegal crossings though entry is banned.
Communist-ruled Laos has ordered lockdowns in its capital Vientiane and banned travel between the capital and provinces. The health minister reached out to neighbours like Vietnam for assistance on life-saving resources. Nepal and Bhutan have seen cases erupt, in part due to returning nationals. Nepal, which has identified cases of the new Indian variant, has limited resources to combat the virus. The Himalayan nation said it’s suspending most flights and turning major hospitals into Covid care facilities.
The situation is “very serious,” according to Ali Mokdad, Chief Strategy Officer for Population Health at the University of Washington. “New variants will require a new vaccine and a booster for those already vaccinated — they will delay the control of the pandemic.”