A fortnightly snapshot of what’s making headlines in South East Asia.

Dengue outbreak complicates South East Asia’s COVID-19 response

Reports suggest that COVID-19 restrictions are contributing to a rise in dengue cases in South East Asia, posing further challenges to strained public health infrastructure. Mandated lockdowns have meant more time at home (where most transmission of dengue occurs), reduced dengue control measures (i.e., removal of potential mosquito breeding sites) and less public health education at the community level. With dengue presenting very similar symptoms to coronavirus, there are also challenges with early diagnosis.

In Laos, some citizens report that the state’s poor public health infrastructure has been exhausted by its COVID-19 response, and the delivery of health services and preventative measures to combat seasonal spikes in dengue have been challenging.

In Singapore a new strain of the disease, in conjunction with unseasonably wet weather and undisturbed construction sites as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, are factors behind the city-state’s dengue outbreak. Scientists are seeking to lower the mosquito population through the use of lab-bred male mosquitoes that carry bacteria which prevents eggs from hatching. Singapore has seen 20 deaths from dengue, out of 26,000 cases this year. This is in comparison to 27 deaths as a result of the coronavirus, out of some 56,000 infections.

Myanmar soldiers confirm atrocities against Rohingya

Rights groups claim that two soldiers who deserted Myanmar’s army have testified on video to the murder and rape of Rohingya villagers. If true, it would be the first public confession by soldiers and would provide important evidence for the ongoing investigation by the ICC into the crime against humanity of forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, as well as other inhumane acts. The two soldiers crossed into Bangladesh and were held by the Arakan Army—an insurgent group fighting against Myanmar government troops in Rahkine state—and have now been transported to the Hague. The highly sensitive nature of this case may explain why the ICC Prosecutor’s Office won’t confirm whether the soldiers are in ICC custody, despite many reports suggesting so.

Khmer Rouge prison commander Duch dies

Tuol Sleng prison—also known as S-21—in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh was site to some of the most horrendous human rights abuses during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979).

In 2010, Kaing Guek Eav (alias ‘Duch’) the head commander of Tuol Sleng, became the first senior member of the Khmer Rouge to face trial and be sentenced by a UN-backed tribunal for mass murder, torture and crimes against humanity. Duch was serving a life sentence when he died at age 77 on 2 September. Since Duch’s trial the ECCC has convicted two senior Khmer Rouge leaders, while two other defendants died before their respective trials could be completed.

Rohingya refugees land in Indonesia after 6 months at sea

This week almost 300 Rohingya refugees arrived at Ujung Blang (Acheh, Indonesia) after 6 months at sea. Rights groups believe the group comprising of 181 women and 14 children originally set sail from southern Bangladesh in March/April, bound for Malaysia. The group has remained at sea since then and had been pushed back by both Malaysian and Thai authorities. Reports suggest that smugglers originally separated some refugees into other boats, but several hundred were kept together as smugglers sought additional payment from their family members. Boat push-backs have been an increasingly common practice during COVID-19, as many Rohingya refugees desperately seek an exit from cramped camps in Bangladesh but states pursue hard border closures as a measure to keep the virus at bay.


Dr Lucy West is a Senior Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.