Mongolia reported its first Covid-19 death over the weekend, illustrating that even in one of Asia’s best-performing countries, when it comes to pandemic control the coronavirus shows no signs of abating.
Before the death of a 76-year-old woman from Covid-19 on Saturday, the country of 3.4 million had reported no fatalities since its first case was discovered in March, reports the South China Morning Post.
The woman was said to have prior health complications, including high blood pressure, diabetes and hepatitis C, according to national news agency Montsame.
On Monday, the country reported 16 new cases, bringing the total number to 1,098, with 711 recoveries. But as recently as early November, there had been no local transmissions and only 346 imported cases before a surge occurred.
Some analysts attribute the low infection rates to the fact that Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. However, many also credited the government for closing its border to China in January, and to the rest of the world in March.
In a November report, the World Health Organization (WHO) praised Mongolia’s emergency preparedness system, but the November surge included the first locally transmitted case, prompting authorities to announce strict new measures including a curfew in the capital, Ulaanbaatar.
The first case of community spread was said to be connected to a truck driver who entered from Russia, leading to further outbreaks among employees of the Trans-Mongolian Railroad, which connects Mongolia with Russia, said Marissa Smith of the American Centre for Mongolian Studies
“The Mongolian government is now taking even stronger measures,” Smith told This Week in Asia on Monday, “It is remarkable there was no community spread earlier.”
In mid-November, Mongolia announced that it had applied to purchase vaccines with funding it received from the World Bank when it joined the Covax Facility, a global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure that vaccines will reach developing countries in need.
Anandsaikhan Nyamdavaa, an independent consultant based in the capital said Russia and China – Mongolia’s two closest neighbours – have officially expressed willingness to supply their vaccines to Mongolia.
“Both the countries could supply their vaccines in a short period if we request them today,” he said. “But there is some reluctance to accept vaccines from China.”
In an online poll conducted by Anandsaikhan over the weekend, 298 Mongolians said they would rather not receive any Chinese vaccines, versus only 15 who said they would.
“Even though this is not a scientific poll, in my opinion it accurately portrays people’s opinion on the vaccines,” he said.
In August, China’s ambassador to Mongolia said his country would send its vaccines to Mongolia once WHO gives its approval.