By Argie C. Aguja
Senior Features Writer, The Philippine STAR

Wealthier Western countries with vast resources are struggling to contain the coronavirus. In contrast, smaller Southeast Asian nations with limited means have shown initial success in the battle against COVID-19

As of May 27, statistics concerning the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have been bleak, reaching 5,591,067 cases; 2,287,152 recoveries; and 350,458 deaths globally (source: While pharmaceutical companies and bio labs all over the world have been working to come up with a miracle drug, experts caution that the numbers will continue to rise well into the near future unless an effective cure or a vaccine is found.

A quick look at data show that first world countries registered some of the highest COVID-19 infections globally, led by the United States (1,716,155), followed by Brazil (392,360), Russia in third (370,680), United Kingdom in fourth (265,227), Spain in the fifth place (236,529), Italy in sixth (230,555) and Germany at the seventh spot (181,288). Despite having greater resources for testing, medical care and bailouts, even the US and Europe struggled to curb the spread of the virus, casting doubts on the Western countries’ ability to contain the outbreak in their respective territories.

In Southeast Asia, four developing nations have achieved initial success in handling the coronavirus crisis within their shores ⁠— even with limited means in terms of medical facilities, available funds, and smaller economies. Here are some of our Southeast Asian neighbors who have made early, yet significant achievements in their campaigns against COVID-19:


As one of the few countries sharing a land border with China, Vietnam acted quickly to shield itself from the spread of the coronavirus, suspending all flights from the mainland on Feb. 1, and then all international air travel by March 25. It also suspended all issued visas to foreigners. Mandatory isolation measures were imposed on all citizens with a history of foreign travel, and related contacts with symptoms. The government also ramped up its already aggressive contact tracing and testing protocols, initiated mass quarantines in villages with confirmed cases, and the immediately mobilized all state agencies. The public is also advised to always wear masks and avoid large gatherings. These early actions have reaped benefits for Vietnam, as the country lifted social isolation measures by April 22, leading to re-opening schools and business, and reviving its weakened but resilient economy. As of May 27, Vietnam has 327 confirmed cases, 272 recoveries and zero deaths.


Since Cambodia reported its first COVID-19 case on Jan. 27, authorities were quick to ramp up isolation measures for symptomatic individuals. By March, Cambodia barred the entry of foreigners from Italy, Germany, Spain, France, the United States and Iran, suspended classes in all schools and closed down all of its borders. When 40,000 Cambodian workers went home, they were all ordered to undergo self-quarantine and observe preventive measures. Travels between cities and across provinces were banned. For more than a month, only a single case was reported and no new outbreaks were recorded. As of May 27, Cambodia has 124 confirmed cases, 122 recoveries and zero deaths.

East Timor

As early as February, East Timor restricted the entry of non-nationals with a history of travel to Hubei, China within the past four weeks. As a preventive measure, the country also closed its borders with Indonesia. When East Timor registered its first confirmed COVID-19 case on March 22, the Catholic Church cancelled mass. A state of emergency was declared, and public gatherings were limited to five people. All international arrivals were ordered to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine. On April 6, the parliament approved urgent measures to deal with the pandemic. As of May 27, East Timor has 24 confirmed cases, 24 recoveries and zero deaths.


After the first COVID-19 case was reported in Brunei on March 9, the government was quick to trace and isolate all known contacts of recorded positive cases. Once identified, efforts were focused on treating the patients at the National Isolation Centre (NIC) in Tutong. Avoiding a lockdown, the government instead ordered a travel ban, restrictions on public gatherings, and asked people to consider working from home, while the Ministry of Health (MoH) issued daily updates and assured citizens of the developing situation. To lessen the economic impact, the government mandated banks to defer loan payments for businesses. It also ordered employers to give paid sick leaves to staff, and even created a fund to give wage subsidies to private sector employees. The national tally of cases stood still, marking the 20th consecutive day without new cases since May 7. As of May 27, Brunei has 141 confirmed cases, 137 recoveries and one death.