Now they are located in a number of places in Asia Pacific where unprecedented outbreaks are being controlled.
While the increase in cases can be partly explained by the highly contagious Omicron variant breaking through the region’s defenses, that’s not the whole story.
In some places, the rising number of cases is a symptom of living with Covid as governments accept that trying to eradicate the virus is an unrealistic goal. In other places, skyrocketing cases are attributed to a lack of planning by authorities who have been caught off guard despite two years of warning.
Asia’s highest peak ever
Many of the places with the most cases per capita in the Asia-Pacific region — which spans East and South Asia and Oceania — have previously been seen as success stories.
Those include South Korea, New Zealand, Vietnam, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Of those, two countries that have both eased restrictions are driving Asian cases: South Korea and Vietnam.
“(The Korean government) relaxed current measures and social distancing, although the number of Covid cases continued to rise,” he said.
Abhishek Rimal, the regional emergency health coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the Lunar New Year, celebrated at the start of the year in both countries, could also have contributed to the outbreaks. .
Another factor, he said, was that both Vietnam and South Korea also have large testing capabilities, which could also explain why they find more cases than other countries.
“They test, that’s why they get it,” he said.
The countries now experiencing a high number of cases all closed their borders at the start of the pandemic, leaving them largely cut off from the world. When Covid broke through, they used tracing, tracking and social distancing measures to control outbreaks.
In recent months, most have begun to shift to a new approach: living with the virus.
After years of banning most foreigners, all places – except Hong Kong – have eased border restrictions and relaxed rules for citizens.
The reasons for this vary from place to place.
“We have been dealing with the pandemic for over two years… and people are really looking forward to going back to their normal lives,” Rimal said.
But people in Hong Kong and China are still waiting to get on with their lives. In both places, governments have enforced strict border rules – and people are still living with social distancing measures and the threat of rapid Covid lockdowns.
Vaccines are the key
Even with cases rising, some authorities in Asia Pacific don’t seem upset for one simple reason: vaccines.
In addition to the small Pacific islands of Tonga and the Cook Islands, New Zealand and South Korea report the highest per capita cases in the region, but their death tolls remain relatively low.
The South Korean authorities have delivered the same message.
“The number of confirmed cases continues to increase significantly, but the severity and death rate and responsiveness of the medical system are considered manageable,” health official Son Young-rae said in a briefing on March 23. passes the peak of this Omicron wave, we will be able to convert to a system closer to normal life.”
Both South Korea and New Zealand have high vaccination rates – but crucially, they have vaccinated their elderly, who are the most vulnerable to serious illness and death from the virus.
And so far that has meant that while these countries have seen an increase in fatalities as their cases increase, they are still able to keep death rates relatively low.
It’s a similar situation in New Zealand – while the country had one of the highest reported per capita Covid cases in the past week, it hasn’t even made it into the top 20 in the world in terms of deaths in the past week per capita.
Again, the outlier of the region is Hong Kong.
The virus was able to rip through elderly homes, where vaccination rates were low.
The question of whether strict measures are worth it is also an issue in mainland China, which is facing the largest outbreak since the one in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic.
And as in Hong Kong, vaccinations among the elderly are lagging, raising concerns that the city’s deadly outbreak could be a harbinger of a deadly wave across the border.
DailyExpertNews’s Yoonjung Seo and Simone McCarthy contributed to this report.