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Malaysian PM self-isolates after possible Covid-19 exposure – dpa international

Muhyiddin Yassin seen giving a speech at an anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur in November 2016 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday but will spend the next two weeks in self-isolation after attending a meeting involving an official who later tested positive for the disease. A Friday statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Muhyiddin, who took office in March, “is required to undergo a quarantine at home for 14 days beginning this afternoon.” The meeting took place on Wednesday, the office stated, without identifying the attendees aside from Muhyiddin. Malaysia has confirmed 7,137 coronavirus cases and 115 related deaths. Over 80 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus have recovered.

Singapore’s Covid-19 cases top 30,000 as more migrants infected – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s confirmed coronavirus cases reached 30,426 on Friday as the Ministry of Health announced 664 new infections. The ministry said the “vast majority” of Friday’s cases are foreign migrant workers living in dozens of crowded dormitories that emerged as hotbeds for transmission in late March. A summary published by the ministry on Thursday shows a cumulative 27,541 cases in dormitories, where over 300,000 mostly young male immigrants from across Asia reside while working in sectors such as security and construction.

Malaysian Catholics in the dark over reopening of churches – dpa international

Sanitiser and sign-in notebook at the entrance to a Kuala Lumpur Catholic church (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Catholic bishops said on Friday that they have not been informed by the government about proposals to allow some non-Muslim places of worship to reopen for ceremonies from June 10. Defence minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that 174 churches and temples will be permitted from June 10 to allow up to 30 Malaysian worshippers attend services, as part of a relaxation of curbs imposed in March to stop the spread of Covid-19. A Friday statement by the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur said that it had “received no further news apart from what was released to the public” and that it did not know which churches could be reopened on June 10.

Malaysia to allow non-Muslim public worship to resume in June – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Muslim-majority Malaysia will allow minority faiths to reopen places of worship from June 10, a further relaxation of curbs imposed to stem the new coronavirus pandemic and one that has already been extended to Muslim ceremonies. After a meeting with leaders of minority religions, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that attendance at such events will be limited to 30 people. “There must also be body temperature checks, hand sanitizer preparation, and devotees are required to wear face masks,” Ismail said. Church weddings will not be allowed until July 31. A total of 174 churches and temples will reopen with each permit limited to one or two days per week. “For example, Christians go to church on Sundays,” Ismail said.

Malaysia criticised over ‘crackdown’ on media, NGOs, undocumented migrants – dpa international

Billboard in Kuala Lumpur showing Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – The United Nations has labelled recent round-ups of undocumented foreign workers as “alarming” and called on the Malaysian government “to refrain from raiding locked-down areas.” “The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” said Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry, several “clusters” of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been found in migrant worker communities, leading to the areas being cordoned off.  Around 200 migrants from countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia were nabbed by police in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, the latest in a series of raids that have seen least 1,800 people detained in the month of May.

Singapore to allow transit flights from June 2 as restrictions eased – dpa international

Singapore harbour seen from Marina Bay, a popular vantage point for visitors (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will permit some international passengers to transit through Changi Airport from June 2 as restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus are gradually lifted. Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority announced on Wednesday that the city-state aims to “gradually reopen air transport to meet the needs of our economy and our people, whilst ensuring sufficient safeguards for safe travel.” Changi Airport is a widely-used hub for travellers making their way to and from the Asia-Pacific region. Authorities closed two of its four terminals after international travel came to a standstill in the wake of the pandemic and Singapore’s ban on visitors and transit.

Malaysia’s parliament holds brief first sitting under new government – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s parliament convened briefly on Monday for its first session since Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as prime minister in March. Citing the new coronavirus pandemic, the government limited the sitting to a brief address by King Abdullah, who praised the country’s health workers and repeated his earlier assessment that Muhyiddin has the backing of a parliamentary majority. The ring-fenced session, during which neither motions nor debate were allowed, scuppered an attempt to regain power by Muhyiddin’s predecessor, 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who last week proposed holding a no-confidence vote in Muhyiddin. Mahathir’s shock February 24 resignation was followed by a frenetic week-long power struggle, during which Mahathir re-entered the fray to return as leader after it became apparent that Anwar Ibrahim, another leading member of Mahathir’s alliance, did not have enough support among parliamentarians to lead the country.

Demand for Singapore’s pharma output surges during pandemic – dpa international

Masks and sanitisers for sale in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A huge jump in sales of pharmaceuticals saw Singapore’s exports expand by 9.7 per cent year on year in April amid the coronavirus pandemic, though overall trade declined. Enterprise Singapore, a government agency, said that Singapore’s exports of pharmaceuticals to the European Union and Japan rose by 467 per cent and 864 per cent respectively compared to the same period a year ago. Dutch bank ING attributed Singapore’s April exports surge to the new coronavirus, saying on Monday that “the global pandemic has lifted pharmaceuticals to be the star-performer.” April was the third consecutive month in which Singapore’s exports grew. However most sectors – including electronics, which typically makes up around 30 per cent of exports – saw declines.

UN warns of surging meth use across Asia, despite Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — The market for synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, continues to grow in Asia despite the coronavirus crisis, a UN report said. “While the world has shifted its attention to the Covid-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The findings, according to a new report by the agency, that relies on “data from 2019 and in some cases up to the first quarter of 2020,” are something of a surprise. “It is hard to imagine that organized crime have again managed to expand the drug market, but they have,” said Douglas, the agency’s Bangkok-based representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Police in Bangkok arrested three men on Thursday while confiscating over a million meth pills, while recent weeks have seen Myanmar’s military and police in Hong Kong seizing drugs and manufacturing equipment in separate raids.

Singapore’s home help migrants face ‘hidden plight’ due to Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A lockdown imposed in Singapore to stall the spread of the new coronavirus has led to increased incidences of domestic helpers being overworked or abused, according to a group that operates a helpline for migrant workers. The Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) said on Friday that calls to the helpline had jumped by 25 per cent since the restrictions were introduced on April 7. Most businesses were closed, forcing Singaporeans to work from home. In turn, some domestic workers – often young women from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines who cook and clean for the city-state’s well-to-do families – face “increased work hours as employers are home at almost all hours of the day, leading to an increase in household and caregiving duties,” HOME stated.