The Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were affected early in the 2020 outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). Thailand identified the first case on 13 January 2020. ASEAN Member States (AMS) and institutions responded rapidly, putting numerous measures and restrictions in place well before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. As comparable restrictions were implemented throughout the world, economies suddenly slowed, domestic consumption and investment declined, global and regional supply chains were disrupted, and a global recession began.

The impact of the pandemic threatens to increase inequalities and negate progress made on poverty reduction. The exclusion of vulnerable groups from policy responses risks further entrenching existing poverty and expanding the number of poor in ways that will be difficult to reverse; the situation will be compounded if multiple types of inequalities are allowed to rise simultaneously. Across Southeast Asia, workers have been hit hard by the pandemic’s economic toll, particularly those in informal labour markets. Additionally, unemployment rises rapidly: global data suggests that unemployment hit women workers the hardest. School closures have worsened the situation, affecting millions of students and their families.