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Unlike in 2020, Asian countries led by India have shared a heavy load of infections and deaths in the covid-19 wave that began in late February, potentially delaying economic recovery for a significant chunk of the developing world.

Since March, the continent has recorded 46% of the 60 million covid cases recorded globally, almost twice as much as its share in 2020.

Asia also accounted for 28% of the 1.15 million covid-related fatalities recorded in this period, up from 18% last year. The current wave is now on the decline in most parts.

With the rate of covid-19 vaccinations slacking, the surge in infections forced several countries to restrict mobility once again, disrupting economic activities.

By mid-May, footfall at retail locations in India dropped to 32% of normal levels, from 77% at the beginning of 2021, while for Thailand, the figure dropped from 80% to 71%, shows Google data.

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New and more infectious variants of the coronavirus may have been responsible for the surge. But unlike the West, where rich countries moved rapidly to vaccinate people, Asian countries struggled to do enough in time.

Barring China, none of the populous developing nations in Asia have been able to even partially vaccinate a fifth of their population, data compiled by Our World in Data shows.

Exceptions include the less populous Israel (63%), Mongolia (57%) and Singapore (43%), and the richer countries in the Gulf region.

So far, India has given 17 doses per 100 population, while the figure is 16 for Japan, 12 for Malaysia and seven for Thailand. The figures are worse for most of India’s neighbours, which had a devastating second wave around the same time.

However, much of the delays in economic recovery will now depend more on the trajectory of covid cases than the vaccination pace, said Rahul Bajoria, chief economist at Barclays Investment Bank.

“Unlike the West, not all Asian economies are mass producers of vaccines, nor did they have access to vaccine supply first, so our view on economic recovery on account of vaccination pace doesn’t change," Bajoria said.

“It was already anticipated that these countries would get vaccine supplies by the second quarter. Restricted mobility due to the sudden surge in cases will be the major cause of slower economic recovery, but that is about to change," he added.

The covid surge has increased vaccine demand, but supplies cannot be ramped up quickly. Some help may come from the US, which has pledged 500 million doses of the Pfizer jab to lower-income countries. India, along with its Asian peers, is also taking steps to increase coverage.

Meanwhile, Europe’s example shows the chances of a future wave cannot be ruled out. Vaccinations can only mitigate that risk, but Asia may not have it easy if that wave arrives before the shots.

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