It was in November last year that World Health Organisation predicted the Third wave of Covid19 pandemic which the global community would be witnessing and start making preparations to combat it. It not only warned countries to be prepared for the wave, but also put in place additional infrastructures to combat the pandemic. Indeed the third wave has hit many countries; in fact Israel and Hong Kong are experiencing the Fourth Wave and Japan and Thailand have gone through three epidemic waves. However, there is also the good news that the COVID 19 vaccines had made debut, albeit of varying levels of efficacy, and many countries have begun the vaccination programme.
This has resulted in ‘vaccine diplomacy’ similar to the ‘COVID equipment diplomacy’ under which many countries provided the PPE kits, etc. Some countries who do not possess necessary capacity to produce the vaccine have been provided on free of charge basis while many have chosen to purchase it.
Ironically, amid COVID diplomacy, ‘vaccine nationalism’ has raised its ugly head. India and South Africa have made a joint proposal to the WTO to ignore patenting the intellectual property rights to innovations connected to the Covid vaccines. They have argued that “patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information would ensure "timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat COVID-19," However, the developed world led by the Britain, France, Germany and the US are unhappy with the proposal and have conveyed their opposition to the above proposal. This prompted WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to express concern over trends in ‘vaccine nationalism’ and he noted that “Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest,”
The Third wave of Covid19 pandemic has hit Southeast Asia. Malaysia and Vietnam are already experiencing the Third Wave and as noted earlier, Thailand has already in it. In Malaysia, in January 2021, daily infections were ten times more and recorded 3,000 on average prompting the government to announce an extraordinary state of emergency with country wide lockdown and parliamentary sitting was held in abeyance and preventing holding general elections.
In Vietnam, there were only a little over 300 cases and zero deaths from COVID19 during four consecutive months i.e. between October and January which by all counts is an impressive achievement. However, the Third Wave hit the country in late January (first wave peaked on April 2, 2020; second wave of infections peaked on August 17, 2020; and the third wave started on January 27, 2021 and Covid-19 spread to 13 provinces and cities in Vietnam) and the government was back to high state of alert and it ordered lockdowns and closed schools, movement of people was restricted and testing for the virus was increased. The epicenter of the Third Wave was identifies as Hai Duong (population of 1.9 million and 77 people were treated at hospitals, four times higher than the safety threshold).
Also, the government has called on people to strictly adopt the 5K principle i.e. khautrang (facemask), khukhuan (disinfection), khoangcach (distance), khongtu tap (no gathering), and khaibaoyte (health declaration) to effectively protect nearly 100 million Vietnamese people from COVID-19.
The government also notified that the new and more virulent strain of the UK type had been detected. It was also announced that the country had contracted for Astra Zeneca vaccine under the Covax program and would be receiving nearly 4.8 million doses in the first half of 2021. After that another supply of 30 million doses would be available for domestic inoculation. It is worth mentioning that Vietnam is also developing four of its own COVID-19 vaccines.
Perhaps it merits attention that Vietnam once again quickly controlled the Third Wave largely due to consensus of the entire political system and the cooperation of the Vietnamese people. It fair to state that Vietnam is indeed a bright spot in dealing with the pandemic and promising to be a safe destination in the coming time.
Meanwhile, at the virtual Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh assured Brunei, the ASEAN Chair in 2021 and ASEAN Member States that the country would support ASEAN efforts in post-pandemic recovery plan, fight the pandemic and use the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to purchase vaccines for citizens, and putting the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies into operation.
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Consultant Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi.