Covid-19 in Asia: Law and Policy Contexts

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused extraordinary disruption on a global scale, from social distancing regulations and travel bans to full-scale jurisdictional lockdowns. CAPI Director and Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations Victor V. Ramraj has galvanized an international network of legal scholars and social scientists to examine Covid-19 policies and practices – and the trade-offs they require - across Asia. Their contributions will be published in a forthcoming volume to be published by Oxford University Press (estimated publication date of fall 2020) comprising twenty-nine chapters organized under five sections: (1) first wave containment measures; (2) emergency powers; (3) technology, science, and expertise; (4) politics, religion, and governance; and (5) economy, climate, and sustainability. Contributors have been presenting their draft essays as online webinars. To be notified upon publication of the book, please CAPI Communications Officer Jon Woods or sign up to our e-newsletter.

Past webinars:

14 July 2020 | How is Myanmar responding to COVID-19? Insights from policymaking


  • Colleen Duggan (Program Leader, Governance & Justice, IDRC)
  • Victor V. Ramraj (CAPI Director).


  • Tun Myint (Simon Fraser University)
  • Kai Ostwald (U of British Columbia)


  • Ngu Wah, Senior Policy Advisor, Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD), Yangon
  • Aung Hein, International Growth Centre (Yangon) / DPhil in Public Policy candidate at the University of Oxford.

Compared to many countries, the virus has been slow to gain a proper foothold in Myanmar. As of mid-May 2020, the Ministry of Health and Sport website reported 181 cases of COVID-19 and 6 deaths nationwide. Although Myanmar has not officially detected a high number of active cases, the virus has already wreaked havoc on the economy and society as a whole. International financial institutions expect a slight decline in the GDP growth rate, but this can change dramatically if COVID-19 becomes widespread, causing severe disruptions and panic reactions. Should policy makers anticipate the worst-case scenario and prepare timely responses? Are the current responses hitting the mark?

Myanmar does have a step-by-step guideline under the National Plan of Action on Health Security, which was updated in 2018. The country also has experience recovering from severe shocks such as Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and floods and landslides in 2015. Perhaps no other Asian country has the same vulnerabilities to COVID-19 as pronounced as in Myanmar, which continues to grapple with political, economic, and conflict-related transitions that fundamentally shaped its pandemic response. Capacity constraints in key state institutions and the healthcare system, coupled with a population that is highly vulnerable to a sharp economic downturn, required a pragmatic response that excluded many of the aggressive measures taken by regional neighbors. The implementation of policy was often improvised and left to lower level officials, leading to considerable variation across the country. The challenge of containing the pandemic threat was compounded by ongoing conflict in the country’s periphery, as well as the presence of several high-risk groups including returning migrant workers and internally displaced persons.

This event was co-hosted by the Knowledge for Democracy - Myanmar (K4DM) Initiative

18 June 2020 | Governing through Contagion

with Lynette Chua (National University of Singapore) and Jack Jin Gary Lee (Kenyon College, USA)

As the COVID-19 pandemic developed, government after government imposed strategies of control to contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These strategies of control recursively produce what we call “governing through contagion.” Concerned with the administration and politics of strategies of control to combat contagious diseases, governing through contagion produces and emerges from a web of human and non-human relationships. Flexing power over life, governing through contagion regulates a population to ensure subjects’ bodies are free from contagion, do not spread contagion to fellow subjects, and stay economically productive, or at least, not economically damaging. Such power over life comprises multiple interlocking modalities of power - juridical, disciplinary, and security. Each of the three modalities deploys law and other technologies to achieve particular results, but the paramountcy of governing through contagion is the goal of the third modality – security outcomes, which are almost always economic objectives that legitimize a political order. In this conceptual paper, we introduce three themes of governing through contagion: centralization and technology of law, normalization and technologies of moralization, and inter/dysconnectedness and the rearticulation of difference. Our analysis is anchored in our larger historical ethnography of colonial empires and post-colonies, but in this paper we illustrate the concept using one post-colony, Singapore, situated in three socio-legal contexts: the colonial era (particularly 1868-1915), the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the three themes may vary in relevance or degree elsewhere, we offer them as future research directions on governing through contagion.

This event was co-hosted by the Centre for Asian Legal Studies (CALS) in the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore

28 May 2020 | Mongolia: Self-Isolation Leads to Success and Challenges​

with Charles Krusekopf (Royal Roads University) and Sainbuyan Munkhbat (Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada)

Mongolia has been highly successful in containing COVID-19 and preventing community outbreaks. Despite its close trade and travel links to China, South Korea and Russia, as of mid-May 2020 the country has recorded less than 200 cases, all linked to travel outside the country with no community spread. Mongolia's efforts were supported by both political leaders and the public, and were coordinated closely and successfully with neighboring countries and international organizations. While the country has achieved notable public health success, longer-term challenges are looming as the country tries to reopen but faces a severe economic and social shock due to high internal and external debt levels, continued international travel and trade restrictions, and the global economic slowdown.

21 May 2020 | Production and Pandemic in a Just-in-Time Global Economy: South and Southeast Asian Workers Face the Coronavirus Fellow-Traveler

with Jamie Lawson (UVic Political Science) and Helen Lansdowne (CAPI Associate Director)

This talk triangulates the global economy, COVID-19, and South and Southeast Asian (SEA) labour.  Filipino and Vietnamese workers in Canada, South Asian workers in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and ASEAN workers laboring at home often experience confined living and working conditions, often the best conditions to transmit disease. Such conditions may exist even while moving along the corridors with goods and other people. South and Southeast Asian workers make possible the long transportation routes of modern commerce and recreation; their homelands burgeon with cheap manufacturing that supplies the world. Their Covid-19 experiences tell us many important truths about the world’s recent socio-economic history.

12 May 2020 | Vietnam: Marshaling State and Non-State Actors against Covid-19

with with Cuong Nguyen (Institute of Legal Studies, Ministry of Justice, Vietnam) and Thanh Phan (University of Victoria Law)

When the coronavirus outbreak emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the Government of Vietnam observed that this is a highly contagious disease and prepared measures to prevent the spread of this virus across Vietnam. The Government acknowledged that as a middle-income country with limited resources, Vietnam may not handle a nationwide outbreak. The Vietnamese Government, therefore, has mobilized all resources to flatten the curve of coronavirus in the early stages, which is considered as urgent and serious as a war. In this campaign, the Government of Vietnam has also been strongly supported by non-state actors including corporations, socio-political organizations, non-governmental organizations, and people. From a legal perspective, the Vietnamese Government has effectively implemented measures dealing with Covid-19 epidemic within its existing legal framework without enacting any new laws.

5 May 2020 | Covid-19 in Asia: Questions and Conundrums

with Victor V. Ramraj, CAPI Director/Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations; UVic Law Professor

This presentation will highlight the pressing policy questions and conundrums that have emerged from Asia’s experiences with Covid-19 and provide an overview of a collection of essays - with the working title, Covid-19 in Asia: Law and Policy Contexts - that we are putting together in response to the pandemic.

30 April 2020 | Cambodia: Transparency, Politics, and Economy

with Ratana Ly1,2,3, Vandanet Hing1,3, and Kimsan Soy1


The responses to Covid 19, now 122 confirmed cases, have been quite perplexing with loose and strict measures being enforced at different times, or simultaneously, in light of evolving social, economic and political considerations. The Cambodian government took a tougher stance, yet remained strategic and cautious when Covid 19 epicentre moved from China to Western countries. Measures include travel ban from some Western countries and Iran, closing educational institutions and entertainment places, passing state emergency law, delaying Khmer New Year holiday, and temporarily restricting movement between provinces during the Khmer New Year, to avoid community spreading. Yet large number of blue-collar workers still work rather side by side in tight spaces. Relative normalcy continues, leaving most people to make their own judgments as to what extent and when, to go about their everyday living. What is happening may exhibit the rooted problems of transparency, politics, and economy – which require policies and regulations that not only flight Covid 19, but continue to have positive and uplifting impacts on people and society. 

1 Center for the Study of Humanitarian Law at the Royal University of Law and Economics in Cambodia
2 PhD student, UVic Faculty of Law
3 Incoming scholar with the CAPI/UVic Law project "Regulating globalization in South & Southeast Asia" funded by the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Advanced Scholars (QES-AS) Scholarship program

28 April 2020 | South Korea: Democracy, Innovation, and Surveillance

with Sunghee Chung1 and Sujin Lee2


This chapter examines South Korean’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak focusing on its health, economic, and social measures to flatten the pandemic curve since January 2020. Despite its initial spike in coronavirus cases, South Korea has been globally praised for its transparent, innovative, and effective approaches to fighting against COVID-19. The so-called “Trace, Test, Treat” strategy, including intrusive contact tracing, mass testing, and a public healthcare system, has been proven effective in flattening the curve without resorting to a complete lockdown. Furthermore, the government’s transparency and private-public partnership have been instrumental in responding swiftly to the emerging virus while ensuring social and economic stability. However, the Korean model for COVID-19 containment did not come without controversy: the controversy has centered on the extensive use of surveillance technologies to track and monitor individuals, which may result in the limitation of fundamental human rights. This chapter illuminates the dilemma facing Korea between democratic governance and surveillance technology and discusses how to address potential tensions between freedom and public health in a state of emergency through the lens of the Korean model.

1 The Chinese University of Hong Kong
2 University of Victoria Department of Pacific and Asian Studies

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