Asia is by far our favourite continent to travel. We love that every Asian country has its own style, and then within each country there are countless surprises.

Think about it; Nepal is totally serene, loads of space, and spectacular natural scenery such as, well, the world largest mountain range. Vietnam’s South is home to crazy roundabouts thick with motorcycles where you have no idea how drivers would get on or off, yet Northern Vietnam boasts the emerald coves and limestone pillars of Halong Bay.

Thailand is known for paradise beaches more stunning and less expensive than white sandy shores in other parts of the globe. Sumatra and Borneo are the only places in the world where wild orangutans roam freely. And all of this is only tipping the iceberg.

But with Covid-19 lurking we couldn’t help worry that Asia could be affected worse than other places. So, we did a little investigating. And what we found was a happy surprise.

The World has been quick to point the finger at Asia. Wuhan, China, where the initial covid-19 outbreak occurred continues to front most of the scrutiny as we try to figure out whether the infection began in a lab or indeed in an animal food market. We may never learn the truth, and perhaps it’s not what we need to learn from all this anyway. Particularly as Wuhan gracefully recovers while the rest of the World continues to fight the Covid battle.

Next under the microscope has been Indonesia with speculation that their low Covid cases were instead the result of withholding information. Indonesia’s health minister, Terawan Agus Putranto publicly described that claim as insulting but went on to proclaim the low numbers are due to good karma. Hardly a statement to win over Western reporters.

Halong Bay Northern Vietnam
With a quick review of the World Health Organisation’s website, the results through Asia tell a much more complimentary story than media would have us believe.

The below table shows Covid-19 statistics as reports by WHO between Jan 25 & May 3 2020.

Country Confirmed Cases Deaths Population
Cambodia 122 0 16 million
Nepal 82 0 28 million
Sri Lanka 771 9 21 million
Thailand 2,989 55 69 million
Malaysia 6,176 103 31 million
Indonesia 12,071 872 267 million
India 39,980 1,301 1.35 billion
Vietnam 271 0 95 million

Nepal and Vietnam’s per capita results leading the rest.

Hone in on Vietnam – a country of 95 million people – and the statistics are exemplary.

It could be said that Vietnam’s results are down to quick action by their leader, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. For reference, Nguyen Xuan Phuc had already organised a National Steering Committee on Epidemic Prevention on the same day WHO had declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. That’s pretty quick action by anyone’s standards, let alone the leader of a country with 95 million inhabitants.

Some journalists have been quick to pick up on Vietnam’s success, and an article in The Diplomat sum the efforts up well: While media commends Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea for containing the virus respectively, Vietnam has slid under the radar. A country bordering China – there the outbreak occurred – acted swiftly, considering trade and tourism interests between the two. The article praises the quick use of real time databases and mobile apps to record health status and symptoms. Creative media style replaced typical propaganda too, thus penetrating wider into the general public advocating action.

Siem Reap Cambodia
In Cambodia the results are also exemplary, and with a population of 16million this could also be something to highlight. Although to achieve such immediate success the country reportedly awarded greater power to Hun Sen, known to be an autocratic leader. The decision isn’t necessarily what the Cambodian population advocated and there is potential for human rights to be the bigger issue here in the wake of Covid-19. But that’s a story for another time. For now, in the midst of the global pandemic, Cambodia is putting up a strong fight.

While Singapore tackles its second wave of outbreaks we carry on using their strategy around the World as a sort of covid-19 barometer, from which we make our own decisions. Ultimately mimicking their methods.

I’m not an epidemiologist, just an immense fan of Asia and a deep grained love for exploring the globe. I wonder if at the end of the pandemic we could be forced to turn inward and admit that our expectations of Asia were not met.

Where our Western superiority expected Asia to succumb to a crumbling mess of mass tragedy we may in fact continue to be pleasantly surprised at how these highly populous countries, some with fewer resources and government funded health care than us, have managed to work faster as a team, to overcome something that could have been far more catastrophic.

It’s less than 4 months since WHO officially declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern at the hands of Covid-19. Already we see domestic travel resume within China with visitors exploring the Great Wall. Disney Resort, Shanghai has reopened to the public. Nepal’s lock down is due to be lifted on May 19th with cross border movement to India and China due to resume May 31st. Progress is occurring in Asia.

It’s early days and still a lot can happen when a highly contagious virus is ravaging the globe. But the message is clear: Vietnam, Nepal, even tourist regions like Bali are handling the pandemic remarkably.

So perhaps it’s time to dust of the Asia bucket list ideas you’ve had in the back of your mind, and begin the planning phase of your post Covid Asia experience.

Great Wall of China