God, Islam, Rasuls, Prophets, Angels, Muslims, Mankind

Why has the pandemic spared the Buddhist parts of Southeast Asia?

ONE FROM larger puzzles of the global pandemic are found in Southeast Asia. Although they are close to the source of covid-19 in China and one of the current hot spots of the epidemic, India, the partly or largely Buddhist countries of Cambodia, Laos, from Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam barely sneezed.

Vietnam stands out: with 97 million inhabitants, there are no deaths from Covid-19. Thailand, at 70 meters above sea level, recorded only 58 deaths and no local transmission in more than 40 days. Depleted Myanmar has only six deaths out of 317 cases, while Cambodia (141 confirmed cases) and tiny Laos (19 cases) have also had no deaths and no local transmission since April. Compare this with the archipelagic countries neighboring Indonesia (about 68,100 cases and 3,400 deaths) and the Philippines (50,400 cases and 1,300 deaths), where the pandemic is still raging.

Put aside karmic grace as an explanation, especially since the communist dictatorship of Vietnam is an atheist. The success of Vietnam is indeed easier to explain. The country suspects its big neighbor to the north, China, rooted in millennia of historical interaction. At the start of the year, she instinctively distrusted China’s assurances about the disease and even launched cyberattacks to obtain better information on the development of the epidemic. He closed his border and used authoritarian powers to lock up the population and locate and isolate cases. This is essentially what the Chinese Communist authorities also did.

Few governments have both the exaggerated power and effective health systems necessary to emulate China and Vietnam, but Thailand, a simulated democracy overseen by generals, is perhaps the closest. The quality of its health care makes Thailand a popular destination for medical tourism. In addition, the government was quick to set up a vigorous task force to combat seizures.

Thailand’s success comes despite its close ties to China. Many people-to-people exchanges could be expected to spread the infection. But that did not happen in Laos, which is too small to resist the flatteries of China, in Myanmar, which is full of Chinese traders and smugglers, or in Cambodia, of which the strong man, Hun Sen, is the the region’s biggest cheerleader for China. The Chinese construction is reshaping these countries, which have all been pressured not to close the borders with China even as the pandemic spread. Mr. Hun Sen went to Beijing in February, at the height of the Chinese epidemic. Thailand welcomed Chinese visitors until late March. Myanmar’s border with China is extremely porous. Why didn’t visitors from China sow more outbreaks in Southeast Asia?

There is a widespread suspicion that they did, but that has not been reported. Testing is severely limited to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Yet, says Frank Smithuis of Medical Action Myanmar, a charity with several clinics across the country, if there had been large-scale transmission, his organization would have noticed. It is not possible, he says, to hide an epidemic of Covid-19, particularly in Myanmar, the “number one country of gossip” in the world. Experts in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam see no evidence of widespread transmission, such as people showing up in hospitals.

Even the poorest countries have adopted measures which must have helped to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok reports that migrant workers returning from Thailand to their villages in Myanmar often had to stay in quarantine for 14 days in a hut outside their village. Other factors may have helped, according to health experts, including the large number of people living in the countryside rather than in overcrowded cities; people are more likely to live with fans and windows open than air conditioning; the relative youth of the region; and a pre-existing propensity for masks. There may also be a religious element. the wai, a Buddhist greeting from palm trees pressed together, helps with social distancing.

The question now is whether the Buddhist successes of Southeast Asia can withstand the second or third wave. Perhaps, suggests Mr. Thitinan, that China’s weak transmission was not the divine miracle – the neighboring giant, after all, quickly overcame its epidemic. Now the channels of transmission are changing. Throughout Asia, infections are imported from around the world, sowing local transmission, most recently in Hong Kong. The crowds this week at temples in Southeast Asia celebrating the start of Buddhist Lent are a reminder of how easy it is to let go of the guards of lust.

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