For much of the pandemic, many of the wealthier countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region have pursued a “zero-covid” strategy, whether explicit or not. The success of the approach, involving closed borders, quarantine hotels and severe lockdowns, has generally been spectacular. Hong Kong has had no locally transmitted infections since mid-August. In the pandemic’s first year, Taiwan officially counted about a dozen deaths from covid-19. New Zealand is the standout zero-covid state, with just 27 deaths. Indeed, because fewer people died of things like flu or road accidents in lockdown, both countries recorded fewer overall deaths than in a normal year, according to The Economist’s excess-deaths tracker.
Yet those with a good first act are struggling in the second. The coronavirus, especially the highly infectious Delta variant, usually has the last word. In Taiwan cases leapt in May, and the official death toll has risen to nearly 850. In Singapore daily infections have risen from low double digits in early July to more than 3,000 now. Australia, with some 2,000-odd daily cases, is following a similar trajectory. Even in New Zealand, now with double-digit daily cases, the dam has broken.
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