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Despite economic risk, Singapore lockdown looms after Covid-19 surge – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Announcing an effective lockdown that will run for a month from April 7, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singaporeans on Friday afternoon that the country needs to “make a decisive move now” to stop the coronavirus. “We will close most workplaces except for essential services,” Lee said, touting the move as a “circuit breaker” aimed at interrupting a startling jump in infections over the past week. Singapore has seen the number of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, rise to 1,114. Five people have died, the latest fatality announced on Friday morning. Most of this week’s diagnoses have been described by the Health Ministry as “local,” after a period of weeks when most of the new cases originated in homebound Singaporeans and were labelled “imported.” “For half of these [new] cases we don’t know where or from whom they caught the virus,” Lee said

Malaysian trade slump sharpens central bank recession warning – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR —  New official data show Malaysian trade dropping significantly in February, adding weight to a central bank warning of a looming recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, said early on Friday that the country’s economy could contract by up to 2 per cent in 2020 due to the outbreak. According to the Department of Statistics and the Ministry for Trade and Industry, Malaysia’s trade in February was down 12.7 per cent compared to January. Although trade increased by 11.6 per cent when measured year-on-year, this year’s plunge is likely to continue while the coronavirus pandemic rages. On February 29, global reported cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that originated in China in late 2019, stood at just over 86,000, with 25 cases confirmed in Malaysia. 

Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases top 3,000, over 4,100 lockdown arrests – dpa international

Staff at a supermarket check-out in Kuala Lumpur, one of the types of businesses open during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Health Ministry reported 208 new coronavirus cases on Thursday evening, taking the country’s total to 3,116, the highest in South-East Asia. The ministry acknowledged that Thursday’s rebound marked a setback after numbers earlier this week dropped from the more than 200 new daily cases seen last week. “We cannot expect zero cases of Covid infection in this country,” said ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah, during a televised press conference. Fifty people have died in Malaysia after being infected with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.Though Hisham expressed disappointment at the jump in cases from Wednesday’s 142, he said that 122 people were discharged from hospital on Thursday. Thursday’s numbers took Malaysia’s total recoveries from Covid-19 to 767.

Biggest daily jump sees coronavirus cases in Singapore hit 1,000 – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Health Ministry on Wednesday night confirmed 74 new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, representing the biggest one-day increase since the outbreak began. The city-state’s total caseload has now reached 1,000. Fifty-four of the newly-confirmed diagnoses were described by the ministry as “local.” The resurgence in cases with no recent overseas travel history reverses a trend of “imported” cases – mostly homebound Singaporeans.  “Our focus now has to be on our locally transmitted cases, especially the cases that are still popping up,” said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong. 

Covid-19 to slam the brakes on Asia’s high-octane economies – dpa international

Evening traffic in Kuala Lumpur before the pandemic (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Countries across East Asia and the Pacific face recession and rising poverty as economies grind to a halt due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic. In a report published on Tuesday, the World Bank warned that “significant economic pain seems unavoidable” across what was one of the world’s fastest-growing regions before the outbreak, which has killed almost 38,000 people worldwide. Though East Asia’s developing economies expanded at an estimated 5.8 per cent in 2019, some countries were already struggling with the knock-on effects of the China-United States trade war before the virus emerged in China in late 2019. Now, according to the bank, a possible 2.8 per cent region-wide contraction looms should a sustained pandemic force lengthy lockdowns and constrict business worldwide.

Over 1,100 lockdown arrests as Malaysian coronavirus cases top 2,600 – dpa international

Food delivery motorcycles are about the most commonly-seen traffic in Kuala Lumpur during the virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has arrested at least 1,100 people for violating a lockdown aimed at curbing a recent spike in coronavirus cases to 2,626, the highest reported national total in Southeast Asia. During a Monday press conference streamed via Facebook, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that 828 people were detained on Sunday for breaching movement restrictions imposed on March 18. Police had earlier announced over 300 arrests for alleged violations such as jogging and playing football. One suspect, a 61-year-old cardiologist, told police that running should be permitted for health reasons. A video of the encounter went viral on Malaysian social media last week ahad of the accused pleading not guilty in court on Monday. Giving notice of further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 35,000 worldwide, Ismail said Malaysia’s shops will reduce operating hours from Wednesday “All supermarkets or any premises selling essential items shall observe the new operation hours, which is from 8am to 8pm,” the minister said. 

Malaysia to try counter virus impact with huge 58bn-dollar stimulus – dpa international

Beggars on otherwise near-empty streets during lockdown in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday that Malaysia aims to spend 250 billion ringgit (58.2 billion US dollars) to counter the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking on national television, Muhyiddin said the “people’s economic stimulus package will benefit everyone.” With the economy at a standstill since a lockdown was imposed by the government on March 18, the prime minister pledged around a third of the funds to support hard-pressed businesses and promised one-off cash payouts to a range of groups, including unmarried low-income earners, pensioners and bottom-tier civil servants. A recent dip in prices for export commodities such as palm oil could leave Malaysia hard-pressed find the money to pay for its mammoth stimulus, which equates to just under a sixth of the country’s estimated 370-billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP).

Singapore to spend 38 billion dollars as pandemic pummels economy – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat proposes spending up to 55 billion Singapore dollars (38 billion US dollars) to cushion the wealthy city-state against a looming recession triggered by coronavirus. “As an open economy, we will be deeply impacted by these global shocks,” Heng, who doubles up as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s deputy, told parliament on Thursday afternoon. Announcing what he termed a “resilience budget,” Heng projected that Singapore could spend up to 11 per cent of its gross domestic product to counter what he said could be “a recession at least as bad as the global financial crisis.” Singapore, which has the world’s fourth-highest GDP per capita according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) rankings, will spend over 11 billion dollars of its estimated hundreds of billions of dollars in reserves, Heng said. 

Singapore ramps up virus testing and tracing, cautions pubs ahead of shutdown – dpa international

Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore, destination for medical tourists from around Asia (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Police will patrol Singapore’s bars and nightclubs staging “farewell” events on Wednesday night, ahead of a government-enforced shutdown due to coronavirus. A joint statement on Wednesday by Singapore’s police, Tourism Ministry and enterprise board warned that attendance must be limited to 250 people. Organizers must “reduce mingling amongst participants” by keeping people “at least a metre” apart, the statement read, as Singaporeans took to social media to accuse the various venues of irresponsibility and recklessness. After a recent jump of Covid-19 cases, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, Singapore announced on Tuesday that “entertainment venues” such as bars, cinemas, discos and theatres would have to close from March 26 until April 30.

Malaysia extends virus lockdown to mid-April as deaths hit 19 – dpa international

Lockdown as seen Iinside a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall on March 25 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia will extend restrictions aimed at stemming rising numbers of new coronavirus cases until mid-April, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Wednesday. “The trend [of new infections] is expected to continue for a while before new cases begin to subside,” Muhyiddin said in a televised lunchtime address, announcing that curbs on travel and business imposed a week ago will be extended to April 14. “The public must be mentally and physically prepared to stay at home for a reasonably longer period of time,” the prime minister warned. Malaysia’s Health Ministry announced later on Wednesday that 19 people have died in the country after contracting Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, in the pandemic that has killed over 19,000 worldwide.