To meet the COVID-19 patients who struggle to breathe, Indonesia converted almost all of its oxygen production to medical uses. In Malaysia, overflowing hospitals had to turn to the floors to treat patients. In Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon, graveyard workers are working hard to meet the growing demand for burials and cremations.

In May, images of dead bodies being burned in open-air pyres in India during the height of the pandemic shocked the world. But, in the past two weeks, the three Southeast Asian countries have all exceeded India’s peak per-capita death rate. This is due to a new coronavirus virus wave that, fuelled by the virulent Delta variant, has tightened its grip on the region.

These deaths follow a record number of cases in the region, which has left the health systems in the region struggling to cope with the rising numbers and government scrambling for new restrictions to stop the spread.

Eric Lam, who was positive for COVID-19, was admitted to hospital in Selangor (Malaysia), on June 17. The state is at the heart of the country’s epidemic.

However, the situation was better than in other hospitals in Selangor (Malaysia’s wealthiest and most populous state), where there were no beds available and patients were treated on floors and on stretchers. Since then, the government has added more hospital beds and transformed more wards to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

Lam, 38, recalls hearing the machine beep continuously for two hours while he was in hospital. A nurse then turned it off. He later found out that the patient had died.

A number of factors contributed to the recent rise in the region’s population, including people becoming weary of the pandemic, letting precautions slip and low vaccination rates. Also, Abhishek Rimal (Asia-Pacific emergency health coordinator of the Red Cross) said that the virus was first discovered in India.

He said that “with the measures being taken by countries, if people keep the basics in mind, such as washing their hands, wearing masks, keeping away from the flu, and getting vaccinated, then we will see a decrease in cases within the next few weeks.”

However, Malaysia’s national lockdown has not reduced the daily incidence of infections. On July 13, the country of 32 million witnessed daily cases surpass 10,000 for the first-ever time. They have remained there ever since.

The vaccination rate is still low, but it has been increasing. Nearly 15% of the population is now fully vaccinated. The government hopes to have the majority vaccinated by the end of the year.

Lam is one of many nurses and doctors who have worked tirelessly to keep up with the demands.