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Responses to COVID-19 in Southeast Asia: Diverse Paths and Ongoing Challenges

Published in the Asian Economic Policy Review journal, this paper outlines and compares policy responses to COVID-19 across four Southeast Asian economies.

Due to geographical proximity and trade links with China, Southeast Asian countries were among the first to be exposed to and affected by COVID-19. However, despite shared challenges including protecting population health and economic security, policy responses by national governments have been varied and remain so a year into the pandemic.

This article critically reviews Southeast Asian countries’ approaches to COVID-19 concerning individual country experiences and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Key policy responses – including leadership, public risk communications, health system preparedness and resilience, economic support and social protection, aid and global health diplomacy, digital technologies, and the region’s multilateral response – are discussed.

Findings from the article suggest that while initial resources matter, policy actions weigh strongly. In addition to underscoring the prime importance of decisive and credible leadership, there are several clear implications on how countries should strive to maintain a pragmatic yet conscientious approach to balancing complex and changing risks and to espouse transparent communication and good governance, regardless of levels of development. 

Led by Dr Joanne Yoong (Principal Economist & Behavioural Scientist), this paper was co-authored with Gianna Gayle Amul (Senior Policy Researcher), Dr Suan Ee Ong (Senior Health Systems Researcher), and RFI Interns, Diya Kraybill and Michael Ang.

Read the study at

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