Two contrasting vaccination pictures are now vivifying the line between the heavily industrialised countries in the West, and the South Asian nations.
While the fully vaccinated Western citizens are throwing celebratory parties to say goodbye to dreadful 2020, the South Asian countries struggle to contain new Covid-19 strains including deadly Delta variant, plus to manage the vaccine shortages.
With the depleting vaccine stocks, both infections and deaths have recently spiked in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka over the past two weeks. During the period, India, Pakistan and Nepal, however, witnessed a downturn in the two curves.
Even with the infection curves having calmed down, the road ahead for South Asia still remains daunting as most countries of the region could not immunise 20% of their population. The vaccination rate in the UK is 64%, while 47% of the population received their second doses.
With 1% of the population receiving the first Covid dose, Afghanistan ranks the lowest in the South Asia vaccination chart, while India stands out with 16% of the citizens jabbed, according to the Reuters coronavirus tracker.
Bhutan and the Maldives, however, have had 31% and 46% of their population immunised thanks to their low population sizes.
According to the Reuters statistics, vaccination drives in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh turned substantially slower in the past week as immunisation meantime gained pace in only Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The countries – home to around 1.89 billion people or around one-fourth of the world population – mostly rolled out the inoculation in February-March this year with either vaccine donations from India, or supplies from Covax – the global initiative aimed at distributing vaccines to the poorest countries.
Since the largest drug-maker of the region India banned vaccine exports in late-March in the wake of brutal coronavirus devastation in the country, India's neighbours subsequently hit a stumbling block in immunisation drives.
Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka had to stall their vaccination drives.
With the India-made Oxford-AstraZeneca shots depleting and no sign of supply resumption from Delhi soon, the South Asian nations turned to China and Russia for vaccine help.
Dhaka, Kathmandu and Colombo could resume the drives after they received vaccine doses from China's Sinopharm. In the first week of June, around 1 lakh doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine reached Dhaka under the Covax initiative.
Apart from the Covax supplies, the countries have also engaged in dialling up diplomatic efforts with the Western countries to rev up the stumbling inoculation campaigns.
Sri Lanka reached out to Japan for Oxford-AstraZeneca shots as Nepal asked Denmark for help to continue the vaccination.
Along with vaccine bulk buy negotiations with Beijing and Moscow, Bangladesh appealed to the United States to share its Oxford stockpiles so that Dhaka can complete the second dose of around 15 lakh people, reported The New York Times.
Exposed to Delta variant
More virulent Delta strain, also known as India variant, set alarm bells ringing in South Asian region as India's neighbours reported perveance and spread of the virus type in May, according to a BBC report.
In Bangladesh, the variant was first detected in early May and the latest genome sequencing data has found that 80% of cases can be traced to it. Dhaka said the variant is now dominant, and there is evidence of community transmission.
Bangladesh closed its border with India on 26 April and it continues to be shut.
Nepal shares a long 1,880km land border with India. The presence of the Delta variant was found in mid-May after samples were collected from different parts of the country and sent to India for genome sequencing.
The country does not do its own genome sequencing.
In Pakistan, a few cases of the Delta variant were found after genome sequencing was conducted in the first three weeks of May.
Pakistan has also banned land and air travel from India, citing concerns about the rising infections.
In Afghanistan, Covid positivity rates jumped to 60% from 8% within the past one month. But it is unclear how far the variant may have driven this as there is not any genome sequencing in the country, and testing rates are anyway low.
In Sri Lanka, the Delta variant was also detected in May, and daily cases and deaths rose sharply before dropping.
The Economist Intelligence Unit in mid-January this year projected that the drawn-out vaccination prospects in South Asia mean that outbreaks will continue in 2021, requiring Asian governments to keep economically disruptive border controls, social distancing and other measures in place.