While Australians have focused on the Covid waves in Sydney and Melbourne, many of Australia’s neighbours have recently experienced their largest outbreaks so far. This includes Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and even Singapore.

Singapore surpassed Australia’s vaccination target weeks ago, but was now seeing more than a thousand cases a day. Fiji recently had one of the highest rates of Covid cases per capita – peaking at 1,850 cases in the middle of July. But the nation of 889,000 was now regularly administering more than 10,000 new vaccinations a day.

Vaccination rates were rising elsewhere in the region, but many of the largest countries were falling behind. At the current rate Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands may not catch up until well into 2022.

Many of these outbreaks appear to have peaked or receded. Indonesia experienced more than 56,000 new daily cases at the peak of its recent wave in July, and Malaysia more than 24,000 in August. Indonesia was now reporting in the low thousands of new cases a day, and Malaysia was back under 15,000.

But it can be hard to tell exactly what is happening in many countries as testing rates are low, some data isn’t reported, and other data may only come in weekly or biweekly. The data in the following chart has been interpolated and smoothed for some countries:

Even during Singapore’s outbreak there have been some signs of the vaccinations having an effect. Over the past month the Singapore Ministry of Health reports that 98% of cases have had no or mild symptoms, and just 1.7% required oxygen. And even with the high vaccination rates, just 51% of those requiring oxygen were vaccinated.

The data from Our World in Data shows that Papua New Guinea was managing to vaccinate just a few thousand people a day – there had been only 1.7 doses administered per 100 people in total.

Fourteen doses had been administered per 100 population in Solomon Islands as of two weeks ago, the latest data available shows. Vanuatu had administered 18 doses.

These are far below the rates achieved by Fiji – currently ahead of Australia even with some health workers having to hike into the mountains to reach remote villages. Fiji has also put in place a vaccine mandate for the public and private sector.

Many of the smaller countries or territories in the region have some of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Pitcairn, with a population of just 67, is fully vaccinated. Niue, with 1,600 people, is not far behind Singapore.

Vaccinations, cases, deaths and tests in the region

The region has been plagued by a lack of testing throughout the pandemic – except for Singapore, which has administered more than three tests per person throughout the pandemic. But even countries that had huge outbreaks like Fiji and Indonesia have reported nothing close.

But much of the data is quite patchy, and we have no coverage for many countries and territories. More than 140,000 deaths have been reported in Indonesia since the pandemic began. Malaysia has had more than 25,000 deaths, and there have been 500 in Fiji.

Notes and methods:

  • Smaller countries and territories excluded from time series data due to data gaps.

  • Data interpolated and smoothed for countries that only report weekly or biweekly.

  • Data was standardised by dividing by the reported population and multiplying by either 100 or 1,000,000.


Josh Nicholas

The GuardianTramp

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