Which Countries in Southeast Asia Are Hardest-Hit by COVID-19?

We ran the numbers of our neighbors in the region.
IMAGE FLICKR/Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0)

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 continues to surge worldwide. According to a global tally by the New York Times, there are now over 200,000 confirmed cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus detected in over 160 countries. 

The top 10 worst-hit countries are China (where the virus was first detected in December 2019), Italy, Iran, Spain, France, South Korea, the United States, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Italy has already overtaken China with the most number of deaths.

Closer to home, we thought we’d try to get a snapshot of how the virus has affected our closest neighbors in Southeast Asia. All figures are accurate as of 10 p.m. of March 19 and may likely change quickly as countries update their tallies.

A quick look at the numbers reveals that Malaysia is the country with the most number of COVID-19 cases by far. Officials say many of them were infected during a mass religious gathering at the Sri Petaling Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur from February 27 to March 1 that was attended by as many as 16,000 people from multiple countries.


As of Thursday evening, three countries in the region have yet to report any positive cases of COVID-19—Laos, Myanmar and Timor Leste, although skeptics have said that this is highly unlikely.

Here are snippets of how each country in the region is managing the COVID-19 threat.

1| Brunei

According to the Ministry of Health, all the confirmed cases are currently being treated at the National Isolation Centre of which two are in critical condition. The country has already banned its citizens from foreign travel, except those seeking medical treatment, attending court hearings, or studying overseas. 

2| Cambodia

Among the 37 confirmed cases, there are 24 Cambodians, 3 British, 2 French, a Canadian, a Belgian, 5 Malaysians, and a Chinese who has already recovered, according to the Khmer Times. The country has already closed its borders with Vietnam, Thailand and Laos and have instituted flight restrictions to some countries in Europe as well as ban on entries from US, Iran, Germany, Spain, France and Italy.

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3| Indonesia

This is the highest COVID-19 death toll in Southeast Asia, according to Channel News Asia. The highest number of fatalities was reported in the capital Jakarta, with 17 deaths. The country has announced that it is closing its borders to all foreigners and will not allow its citizens to leave the country for at least one month starting midnight of Thursday, March 19.

4| Laos

The government has suspended the issuance of visas for foreign tourists for 30 days and suspended all levels of education in the latest move to prevent coronavirus (Covid-19), according to the Vientiane Times. Those already holding an entry visa need to get a health certificate from the concerned authorities and declare their movement history. 

5| Malaysia

On Monday night, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced a restricted movement order, which bars citizens from going overseas and foreigners from entering the country for two weeks starting Wednesday to rein in the virus spread in the country, Channel News Asia reported.

6| Myanmar

According to Myanmar Times, the Myanmar government on Thursday shut down the Myawady border gates in Kayin State, which is one of the busiest border gates going to and from Thailand, as part of the efforts to prevent COVID-19. The country has yet to report a confirmed case of COVID-19.

7| Philippines

The Department of Health reported 15 new cases on March 19, which brought the total number of positive cases of COVID-19 to 217. The Foreign Affairs Secretary on Thursday announced the cancellation of visas to all foreigners, effectively barring entry to all non-Filipinos until further notice.


8| Singapore

Singapore’s Ministry of Health confirmed 32 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 345. But of that number, 124 have already recovered and have been discharged from the hospital. The government has already announced that all of its citizens, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors will be issued a 14-day stay-at-home notice starting 11:59pm on Friday, March 20. 

9| Thailand

Thiland has yet to impose strict, large-scale lockdown procedures, with people still allowed to go to public entertainment venues such as boxing stadiums. The Bangkok Post reports that the country’s director-general of the Disease Control Department Dr Suwannachai Watanayingcharoenchai has appealed to the public “to show respect for society by practicing self discipline, to help contain the disease.”

10| Timor Leste

One of the world’s newest countries has yet to report any cases of COVID-19. However, according to this site, its government has already extended temporary measures restricting the entry of foreigners who have been to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran “as a preventive measure in relation to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.”

11| Vietnam

According to this site, Vietnam will stop issuing new visas to all foreign nationals for 30 days starting From March 18 in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. “Travelers from countries with visa exemptions will only be allowed if they can show medical documents certifying they are free of the virus. The suspension also does not apply to diplomats and those entering on government business, however, they will be required to follow quarantine protocols,” the report added.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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