Monkeypox arrives in Asia

Japan, Thailand and India reported their first cases of monkeypox this week. The latest epidemic is filtering into Asia at a crawl, with just a handful of the 16,000 global cases, but enough to declare states of alert or emergency and strengthen border controls.

Monkeypox deepens the East-West discrepancy with pandemics already evidenced by covid. SARS or MERS had vaccinated the continent against the pandemic and, when the first rumors of a strange pneumonia in Wuhan broke out, governments had their weapons at the ready and society knew how to defend itself. With little time they closed the door on the virus while the West wasted months comparing it to the flu. Today Asian governments insist there is no reason to panic about monkeypox as they work to minimize the risks, aware that with viruses it is preferable to err on the side of excess as opposed to the old Western sense of security.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency on Saturday. Monkeypox had emerged in May from the African latitudes where it is endemic and has already been localized in 75 countries. The rapid spread and thousands of cases, most of them with no apparent connection or history of travel to Africa, prevailed over mortality, with only five deaths.

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Country by country

Japan declared level one alert on Monday and asked its nationals to exercise extreme caution abroad. Hours earlier it had confirmed its first case, a 30-year-old man returned from Europe, and ordered a meeting of experts to gather information and prepare tests and hospitals to receive patients. The Health Ministry will discuss this Friday whether vaccines stockpiled against smallpox in anticipation of a terrorist attack are useful against the variant of African origin. Thailand extended nationwide alert on Sunday. following an emergency meeting of the Ministry of Health. Earlier in the day, it had reported the positive test result of a Nigerian national who had traveled in the country. Thailand is also relying on its stockpile of smallpox vaccines, in apparent good condition after 40 years in the fridge, and has ordered border posts to be on the lookout for travelers from hard-hit destinations.

India counted its first case last week and has now racked up four. The first three, detected in the state of Kerala, corresponded to travelers returning from the Gulf area, but the last, in New Delhi, had not left the country. The authorities are investigating how it was infected, they have clarified that no reason to panic and recommended more vigilance to regional governments.

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South Korea, which has the best-oiled machinery against epidemics in Asia, decided at an emergency meeting Monday that increased protection is not necessary for the time being. The current protocol provides for a quarantine of at least three weeks for infected people. and their closest contacts, and laboratories have received orders to manufacture 5,000 doses of third-generation smallpox vaccine.

“It’s only a matter of time before it arrives here too”, admitted Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on Monday. The certainty is viewed with relative calm from the scientific class because its contagious capacity is much lower than that of the coronavirus and because the shield against it serves for monkeypox. Calm does not exclude caution. Airports practice controls since June to those arriving from abroad, especially if they come from destinations with cases in the last 21 days, and importers were ordered yesterday to thoroughly disinfect cargo, containers and vehicles.

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