SINGAPORE – Southeast Asian nations have been eager to leave behind a year that saw record-high Covid-19 caseloads, skyrocketing death rates and economically debilitating lockdowns. With rising inoculation rates recently stabilizing the situation across most of the region, the rapid global spread of the vaccine-eluding Omicron variant threatens to reverse those gains.

The emergence of the highly mutated pathogen, first identified in South Africa and classified as a "variant of concern" last month by the World Health Organization (WHO), is stoking fears of a pandemic resurgence as several global countries, most notably the United Kingdom, face runaway transmissions linked to the ultra-contagious strain.

Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have each detected Omicron cases, raising the specter of new waves of infections and hospitalizations, a scenario that threatens to delay or reverse reopening plans, prolong travel curbs and new rounds of economic and social pain after two years of widespread suffering.