The Slatest

Asia Braces for Second Wave of Coronavirus Cases as Citizens Abroad Return Home

People wearing protective suits and face masks walk in the airport
Incheon International Airport in South Korea on March 10. Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

As the coronavirus spreads, Asian countries that were first hit with the disease as it migrated from China are bracing for another wave of infections as their diasporas return home from Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere. The return of tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of nationals living abroad as the world shuts its borders has led to an uptick in coronavirus cases among early-hit Asian countries, like China, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, that had appeared to have stabilized after initial surges in coronavirus cases. In China, for instance, the country’s immigration authority said as many as 120,000 Chinese nationals had arrived daily in the week since the World Health Organization upgraded the virus to pandemic status.

The result has been a sudden increase in new coronavirus cases in countries that were beginning to unwind some of their most stringent preventive measures. In China, according to government statistics, the number of imported cases has tripled over the last two weeks from 50 to 155. Singapore, which has been hailed as a success story in its dealing with the virus, reported 23 new cases Tuesday, its highest number of cases yet. Taiwan also tallied its highest daily total with 10 this week, while Hong Kong worryingly recorded its highest number of cases since Feb. 9. South Korea, another exemplar of coronavirus response, also had 44 new travel-related infections at the beginning of this week.

“The number of coronavirus cases has spiked across Asia, crushing hopes that the region had contained the outbreak,” the Financial Times reports. “Officials in South Korea, Taiwan and parts of China and south-east Asia are rushing through new measures after a second wave of new infections following weeks of declines. Experts say the sudden increase in cases has revealed the limits of both China’s sweeping lockdown of citizens and of the massive public testing and social distancing campaigns rolled out across Asia.”

The affected countries are tightening quarantine restrictions on incoming travelers to try to avoid a second wave of the virus. China has ordered the 14-day isolation of all incoming people to Beijing at specially designated quarantine hotels in the city. “Measures in China, Hong Kong and Singapore include city-wide lockdowns, border tightening, contact tracing efforts and strict social distancing,” Reuters notes. “The virus has already taken a heavy economic toll, especially in mainland China and global financial hub Hong Kong, so any rise in new cases could be devastating.”