During much of the first year of COVID-19, Southeast Asia seemed one of the few bright spots in the world. Vietnam, a lower-middle income country that had learned from its experience with SARS, had one of the lowest case and death rates in the world. Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and even poorer countries in the region such as Laos and Cambodia mostly kept the virus at bay, even as wealthier states in Europe, North America and Latin America suffered millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

To be sure, Indonesia and the Philippines struggled, but the region’s overall low rates even made some scientists question whether people in mainland Southeast Asia enjoyed some natural immunity to the novel coronavirus.

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