The number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the region have more than doubled since the beginning of 2021. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 3,523,121 positive COVID-19 cases and 75,021 deaths have been confirmed in the region, with Indonesia (1,492,002 cases) and the Philippines (712,417 cases) being the most affected.
Countries across the region are now racing to vaccinate their populations against COVID-19, resulting in the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. At the same time governments remain focused on containing the spread of the virus and responding to the social-economic impacts of the pandemic, which are exacerbating the vulnerability of families to natural hazards and protracted humanitarian situations.
Many children, adolescents and caregivers continue to face psychosocial distress. The Philippines Department of Justice documented a 264% rise of online sexual abuse and exploitation materials on the internet.
UNICEF has supported 58,783 children and caregivers in accessing mental health and psychosocial support and 4 million women, girls and boys in accessing gender-based violence risk mitigation, prevention or response interventions.
UNICEF supported 112,618 schools to implement safe school protocols and 22 million children with access formal or non-formal education, including early learning.
Situation in Numbers
3,523,121 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 75,021 deaths
500,000 additional children have SAM due to COVID-19
6.9 million children are not immunized against measles
369 million people lack access to basic hygiene services
144 million children/adolescents lack access to education
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
COVID-19 continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of children in the region and around the world. Across East Asia and Pacific (EAP), early action by governments and partners has helped limit the spread of COVID-19 compared to other regions. Nonetheless, despite these efforts, new outbreaks of community transmission in many countries continue to emerge, including the spread of COVID-19 variants. The number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the region have more than doubled since the beginning of 2021. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 3,523,121 positive COVID-19 cases and 75,021 deaths have been confirmed in the region, with Indonesia (1,492,002 cases) and the Philippines (712,417 cases) being the most affected. Restrictions on border crossings and flight operations remain in effect throughout the region.
Countries across the region are now racing to vaccinate their populations against COVID-19, resulting in the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. As the largest single vaccine buyer in the world, UNICEF has a unique and longstanding expertise in supporting countries in their national vaccination programmes. UNICEF is leading efforts to procure and supply doses of COVID-19 vaccines for around 100 countries participating in the COVAX Facility.
Across the region, UNICEF is supporting governments with planning, technical assistance and assistive devices, such as cold-chain equipment, to support their COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. At the same time governments also remain focused on containing the spread of the virus and responding to the socialeconomic impacts of the pandemic. There is a risk that health systems at all levels become overstretched in both capacity and resources, which may negatively impact the quality and effectiveness of COVID-19 infection, prevention and control measures, including vaccination, as well as routine essential health and nutrition services.
New outbreaks of COVID-19 in a number of countries resulted in renewed school closures during the first three months of the year. Schools temporarily closed in Thailand (in January/February) and in Viet Nam (in February), but were able to reopen again after the closures. Schools in Cambodia (in February/March), Timor-Leste (in March) and Papua New Guinea (PNG) (in March) closed again affecting more than 5 million children (Cambodia: 3.2m, Timor-Leste: 0.4m, PNG: 2.1m). Children in these countries continue to learn through distance learning modalities supported by UNICEF country offices. Schools began reopening in Malaysia (in February/March) and Mongolia (in March). In the Philippines the majority of schools have remained closed for face-to-face classes since last year, affecting 24.9m children. In Indonesia (68.3m children), a new decree on the school re-opening has been issued to encourage all schools to conduct face-toface learning with safety and health protocols in place for the new academic calendar starting July 2021. Some countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia) have prioritized and started vaccinating teachers against COVID-19 as a measure to reopen schools. In Myanmar, the political crisis and conflict are further exacerbating the challenges faced by the education system and learners; Reports include the occupation of schools by armed forces and the detention of students. All schools remain closed for face-to-face classes in Myanmar, affecting 9.5m students.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges in service provision for child welfare and protection, which include limited accessibility to basic social services, limited availability of social workers, and that service provision focuses on limited legal-focused services instead of on prevention. Risks to child protection remain and available evidence indicates that many children, adolescents and caregivers continue to face psychosocial distress. In the Philippines, quarantine measures that limit mobility of children and adults and restricting classes to blended learning modalities have increased the risk of violence against children. Economic stresses and anxiety due to the pandemic may lead to abuse and exploitation. In a January 2021 report covering March to May 2020, the Department of Justice documented a 264% rise of online sexual abuse and exploitation materials on the internet. In Indonesia, the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection revealed that cases of online violence against women has increased during the pandemic in tandem with the rise in use of the internet and information technology. She stated, “Cases of violence are increasingly having various modes, the risk of online violence against women is increasing along with the increasing use of information technology during the pandemic. The majority of cases are in the domestic realm; deeper psychological pressures accompany survivors, especially those facing various restrictions to leave the house due to the pandemic.”
The EAP Regional Office carried out an After Action Review to reflect on UNICEF’s social protection response to COVID19 in EAP in 2020. It identified the strengths and weaknesses of UNICEF’s ongoing response to COVID-19, the main enabling and limiting factors, key lessons learned and preparedness measures for future responses on social protection in emergencies. Some countries in the region designed stimulus packages with the anticipation that the COVID-19 pandemic would last only 3-4 months, with the majority of their social protection responses being one-off benefits or short-term top-ups to existing benefits (Malaysia, Viet Nam, Timor-Leste, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines). While this may not be problematic for countries that have introduced additional packages over time (Thailand, Malaysia, Mongolia), for countries that endorsed only one stimulus package in 2020, the effects of their responses remain constraint. With the increased public social spending on the 2020 stimulus packages, rising fiscal deficits and government debts as a result of the pandemic, many countries in EAP have oriented political discourse around wide-ranging fiscal consolidation as a top priority for 2021. This has implications for the discourse around fiscal space and political acceptance for the sustainability of social spending (i.e. around social protection measures) in response to the still unfolding COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, the adverse social-economic impact of the pandemic continues to drive millions of children into extreme destitution and livelihood insecurity whilst exacerbating the vulnerability of families to natural hazards, such as typhoons and floods, and protracted humanitarian situations due to unresolved conflict and political instability.
In late December and January, Fiji was struck by two consecutive severe tropical cyclones (Yasa and Ana) affecting more than 20,000 children. The storms caused widespread flooding and damage to houses, health facilities and schools.
In the Philippines, armed conflict erupted on 18 March between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao province. As of 23 March, a total of 10,156 families or 51,050 individuals have been displaced and are staying in 44 evacuation sites in seven municipalities in Maguindanao. Based on the initial assessments, the identified needs are food, water, sleeping kits, hygiene kits, emergency latrines, emergency shelter, and solar lamps.
In Myanmar, on 1 February the Myanmar Armed Forces staged a military coup and detained senior government leaders, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the President, Union ministers, and Chief ministers of all states and regions. A state of emergency was declared, and the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing became the Head of State. He now holds full executive, legislative and judicial powers under the state of emergency. A civil disobedient movement and various forms of anti-coup demonstrations continue nationwide despite violent crackdowns by the Myanmar Military. Day and night raiding into civilian houses and arbitrarily arrests are reported across the country. Disruption of services, including the health care sector, banking sector, and transportation have resulted in restricted access to critical life-saving services, especially for a vulnerable population. Conflict and displacement continue in Kachin, Northern Shan, Chin and in the Southeast, while the situation in Rakhine remains tense. Further details on the situation in Myanmar and UNICEF’s response can be found in a separate situation report dedicated to the Myanmar 2021 HAC appeal.