• As of 18 September 2020, 767,594 positive COVID-19 cases were confirmed in East Asia and Pacific, with 20,610 deaths. After months of steady decline, several countries have seen increases in cases over the past months. Philippines (257,863) and Indonesia (214,746) continue to record the highest number of cases.
• More than 2.6 million children in the East Asia and Pacific region are at risk of permanently dropping out of school in the wake of COVID-19 (UNESCO 2020).
• UNICEF is supporting governments with the “Back to School Campaign”. Most countries in the region have now started reopening schools. The Philippines postponed school reopening from 24 August to 5 October and will rely on various forms of distance learning. In Myanmar, after schools had reopened in July, all schools closed again nationwide at the end of August due to the detection of new cases of COVID-19 in the country.
• To date, UNICEF and partners provided 54.9 million children, parents and primary caregivers with mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), including direct and indirect interventions ranging from individual and group counselling to large scale MHPSS messaging.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
After months of steady decline, several countries have seen increases in cases over the past months, with the Philippines (257,863) and Indonesia (214,746) recording the highest number of cases. To date, 767,594 positive COVID19 cases have been confirmed in the region, with 20,610 deaths. New outbreaks of community transmission in countries such as Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam have emphasized how fragile the progress in containing the pandemic can be and has led the respective governments to resume public health measures in affected areas to prevent transmission, including case investigation, contact tracing, quarantine of close contacts, mass screening, social distancing, compulsory use of mask in public places and even school closures. In Myanmar, the occurrence of COVID19 cases in Rakhine State and subsequent containment measures by the Government of Myanmar have impacted UNICEF’s and partners’ ability to provide humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected and internally displaced people in camps and displacement sites. Meanwhile, countries in the region that have so far avoided significant COVID-19 outbreaks, such as Timor-Leste and Mongolia, have also extended state of emergency classifications aimed at preventing any future contagion.
According to a UNESCO report, more than 2.6 million children in the East Asia and Pacific region are at risk of dropping out of school in the wake of COVID-19. In a positive sign, most countries in the region have now reopened their schools. During the reporting period, schools started to reopen in Mongolia (1 September) and Cambodia (7 September). The Philippines remains the last country in the region which has not yet reopened their schools - school reopening in the Philippines was postponed from 24 August to 5 October, schools will rely on various forms of distance learning during that time. Despite the progress in reopening schools, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious risk to education in the region. After reopening in July, all schools in Myanmar closed again at the end of August due to the detection of new cases of COVID-19 in the country. Similarly, in China an estimated 241.5 million students are now back to school. However, schools in Ruili City, Yunnan Province closed again on 14 September following the confirmation of two imported cases, leading 41,755 students to continue learning online until further notice.
With the extension and reintroduction of containment measures in many countries in the region, ensuring the continuation of child protection services remains critical. The economic impacts on families continue to adversely affect the wellbeing of children and young people, including an increased risk of school dropout, violence, sexual and genderbased violence (SGBV), exploitation, abuse and neglect. Some countries in the region have noticed increased cases of violence in the last three months. Concerning data has been released by the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection in Indonesia, indicating that more than 33,000 child marriages have been permitted in the first six months of 2020, up from 22,000 in all of 2019 – a doubling of the rate of child marriage in the country. In Thailand, the UNICEF-supported helpline Childline Thailand received an increased number of calls in May and June, coinciding with the implementation of a nationwide curfew. In total, the number of calls and chats to Childline Thailand increased from just over 500 in January to over 4,500 in June.
Continued efforts are needed in order to ensure that the number of new cases do not flare up again and to support health systems, communities and families to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. In order to support governments in meeting these challenges, UNICEF is working with governments and partners across the region.