Launching: Southeast Asia in the time of coronavirus

Just under a month ago we put out a call for authors for a special series titled “Southeast Asia in a time of coronavirus”. Much has changed since then; coronavirus, or at least the response to it, has left almost no-one unaffected as we bunker down at home, healthy with our families if we’re lucky and isolated from all our networks if not. The numbers of the least fortunate, those tens of thousands who’ve died as a result of the virus, continue to rise.

Around the world the most precarious and vulnerable members of our society—refugees, informal and casual workers, the poor and the poorly served by health infrastructure—find themselves choosing between earning a living and the potentially fatal consequences of breaking hurriedly introduced laws around social distancing. Whether that threat comes from the virus itself, or the authorities implementing the restrictions, both are real and present dangers. Governments are simultaneously introducing economic safety-net measures that were previously unthinkable to neo-liberal regimes and taking full advantage of their new powers over information, movement and personal freedoms.

Our plans for the series too have had some changes, and it will no longer be edited by Swee Kheng Khor, who has bee called to official duties in the Malaysian government’s coronavirus response. I’m fortunate to have New Mandala assistant editor Cat Yen re-joining the team to assist in bringing this series to you. Due to the overwhelming response from prospective authors, and some extra support from the ANU’s DFAT-funded Southeast Asia Rules Based Order program, we will also be stretching beyond our initial proposal of 10 articles, with a special focus on Southeast Asian women authors.

The goal of the series has been, from the outset, to create a platform that encourages long-range thinking on the crisis as we live through it. These articles have been selected not because they contain the most up-to-date information in a rapidly shifting situation. Instead they are reflections on what has passed and what we can learn from it, in as diverse a range of fields as we can muster.

As we present the articles that have been selected for the series over the coming weeks and months, you may also find other articles reporting on the current state of affairs with regards to coronavirus in Southeast Asia. These will be outside of the series but will nonetheless provide an ongoing touchstone with our neighbours, our friends and family in Southeast Asia, and what they are facing on the ground and in their communities.

To launch the series, our first piece is penned by a poet from Timor-Leste. Dadolin Murak’s ‘Letter to coronavirus’ was first published in Tetum on Facebook, where it received an overwhelming response. The translation for New Mandala was made by Dr Michael Rose, who has also written an accompanying note. This will be published at 5pm today. Each week we will publish another article in the series, covering topics from epidemiology to welfare policy, religious responses through to the community policing.

In the meantime we hope that you, our readers, learn much, stay well and do good where you can.