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BGA analysis on how COVID-19 is shaping the region’s current and future course
“The Covid-19 pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership. The virus thrives on division but is thwarted when we unite.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
World Health Organization Director-General
March 15, 2021
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
Most BGA markets in the Asia-Pacific have approved at least one Covid-19 vaccine and have started to receive their first batch of shipments over the past month — many from more than one manufacturer. Between the end of February and early March, governments began distributing vaccines to priority groups, inoculating health care and front-line workers as well as the elderly and people with other health conditions with the first of two doses. Officials are following phased rollout strategies to vaccinate the general public to meet 2021 targets and possibly achieve herd immunity by the end of the year.
Though vaccinations have been moving along at a steady clip, some countries have had to contend with delays that have forced them to adjust their vaccination schedules and consider alternative vaccine sources. The COVAX facility has provided deliveries for Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines (despite an initial delay due to an contractual issue), but others such as Pakistan have yet to receive shipments. For Myanmar, the recent military coup has completely upset the civilian government’s rollout strategy, causing unknown delays. And expectedly, regulatory authorities that have not yet granted vaccine approvals which continue to contribute to delays in vaccine rollouts, as seen in Japan and Taiwan.
In dealing with impediments to vaccine delivery, many Asia-Pacific countries have sought to diversify risk by acquiring vaccine doses from more than one source or manufacturer. China and India have used this opportunity to exercise vaccine diplomacy — making donations to the Philippines and Bangladesh, respectively — and spread good will throughout the region, but the United States has prioritized its own population. Though U.S. efforts lag behind China, President Joe Biden recently reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to vaccine multilateralism in the form of a $4 billion donation to COVAX and a pledge with its “Quad” partners — Australia, India and Japan — to provide 1 billion vaccine doses to address supply shortages in the Asia-Pacific.
With the decline in infection rates, many markets have begun to ease restrictions on work and travel, hoping to engender economic recovery while managing small-scale outbreaks on a case-by-case basis. In general, local lockdowns have been preferred in place of country-wide mandates, though curfew and quarantine orders remain in place in large metropolitan centers, such as Metro Manila. Authorities are warming up to limited travel, with talk of travel bubbles between Australia and Singapore, for example, but social distancing and quarantine regulations remain in effect.
Optimism has nevertheless been tempered by fears of a third-wave outbreak, particularly in South Asian markets where infection rates remain high, and the emergence of new Covid-19 variants, demanding extra vigilance and greater cooperation to reduce transmission and overcome the pandemic.
Questions and comments are welcome and can be directed to BGA Head of Research Murray Hiebert at email@example.com.
Director of Research, BowerGroupAsia
How Will Covid-19 Reshape Asia’s Security?
As BGA’s ongoing Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19 report series as demonstrated, the pandemic has reshaped a range of sectors in the region with important implications for companies, governments, and publics. Among these, few have attracted more headlines than the defense space, which was the subject of our report released in late August.
The report focuses on five key Indo-Pacific states from across the region – Australia, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Thailand. It delves into not just the trends and developments affecting these countries today, but how their responses are affecting their postures, alignments, and purchasing decisions with implications that will last for years to come.
The report highlights some general trends as well as some country-specific findings. On the former, while the pandemic has led all five of these countries to reexamine their strategic calculus and boost their domestic defense capabilities in some way, there are also some key differences that come across with respect to how they are adjusting their defense spending, how they have adjusted their alignments, and the degree to which they have used their security forces in responding to aspects of the pandemic.
On the latter, each of the country cases reinforce the importance of understanding the nuances of evolving national responses, which is at the core of BGA’s research process. Australia’s defense approach amid Covid-19 has been notably comprehensive, with keen attention to not only offensive military capabilities but also securing its economy and supply chains. India has had to juggle contending with the pandemic and active border tensions with China and Pakistan, and that has only reinforced existing areas of focus such as strengthening ties with like-minded democracies. And in Indonesia, the pandemic has changed the focus of the Ministry of Defense from “hard” security issues to a broader set of national security issues, including ensuring security and accelerating the national effort to mobilize available resources to produce critically needed health equipment such as ventilators.
To be sure, as with other sectors, the exact impact of the pandemic on the defense sector will be difficult to forecast precisely since it is still playing out across the Indo-Pacific region. But as the report illustrates, Covid-19 is already changing not just specific budget numbers or purchases that are the focus of headlines, but also how countries are thinking about the idea of security itself.
Managing Travel in the Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19
While Covid-19 had initially made it difficult for people across the world to travel, countries and companies alike have since been thinking through ways to both manage existing challenges as well as position themselves for future opportunities while keeping safety top of mind.
In a recent column for The Kathmandu Post, BGA Senior Advisor Sujeev Shakya offers some insights as to how countries are coping with this new normal and looking ahead. In the piece, Shakya notes that it is not surprising that instances of forward-thinking have come from extremely trade-reliant and agile countries such as Singapore. “Countries like Dubai and Singapore know a good part of their economy depends on being a transit air point for air passengers. They are quick to get processes done and make people feel welcome.”
But there are also cases outside of Asia that might have lessons for countries within the region to learn from. Fresh off of a trip to Rwanda – one of the first countries to declare itself open to tourists since the pandemic hit – he notes that while challenges and constraints do continue to exist, there have been clear efforts to manage aspects such as Covid-19 testing and information sharing. This opportunity is no coincidence, says Shakya, because Rwanda knows it “can make good facilitation and service a comparative advantage – continuing to push their image as an emerging hub in Africa.”
Shakya notes that these are lessons that some developing Asian countries looking to position themselves can learn from as well, including Nepal where he is based. “The country that can manage this will be the new destination for tourism, investment and economic activities,” he argues. “Nepal needs to learn from countries like Rwanda on how good planning and execution are a must.”
In a reflection of these on the ground developments, BGA’s Asia teams have been monitoring how countries and companies are adjusting to travel and tourism amid Covid-19 and looking beyond it as well. For more, check out some of the previous reports the company has been releasing since June as part of what is now being termed as its Asia-Pacific Beyond Covid-19 series.